Gov. John Kitzhaber told OPB Thursday that the Supreme Court ruling is "very good news for Oregon and very good news for America."
He also urged the rest of the country to follow Oregon's lead, put politics over healthcare changes aside, and move forward. "The cost of health care is not a Republican Issue or a Democratic issue ... let's put this unfortunate, bitter dialogue behind us and let's move forward together. We can do this."
Oregon is one of a handful of states that pressed ahead with health care reforms. Some saw that as kind of a gamble, considering the constitutional questions.
Here's what Kitzhaber told OPB's Geoff Norcross:
Geoff Norcross: Governor, good morning.
John Kitzhaber: Good morning.
GN: What’s your reaction to the high court’s decision this morning?
JK: I think this is very good news for Oregon and very good news for America. It will help, in our state, another 600,000 people get better access to health care coverage. I think it’s a vindication of the Obama administration’s bold approach. You know, our health care transformation is well under way. Our insurance exchange is slowly going to be moving forward.
And I think it’s time to stop using the health care crisis as a political football. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, it seems to me that the republicans and democrats in Congress need to come together and make this work for individuals, for businesses, for states and for America. What we’re doing here in Oregon is a clear example of what’s possible.
GN: One of the things Oregon is doing is putting together coordinated care organizations to improve care for Medicaid patients. Does this mean the funding for that effort is intact?
JK: Yes, and of course we already got a $1.9 billion commitment to help make the transition. The important thing here is that, with the exception of the mandate, the health care transformation work here, the coordinated care organizations are not unlike accountable care organizations. The takeaway here is that Oregon put this together with broad bipartisan support, with support of business, labor, hospitals, providers and consumers. There’s not that much difference than what the president’s trying to do.
It’s just unfortunate this became such a political football. But we know that the cost of health care is a huge impact on businesses, on our American competitiveness, on families, on individuals. Now we have to make this work. Are there problems with it? Certainly. But let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and say, OK, the Supreme Court has made its ruling. Now let’s work together as Americans who share a common future, and let’s make this system work.
GN: Did you have a plan if the court struck down the entire law? Did you even consider that possibility?
JK: Absolutely. I think none of us knew for sure. Although, as I've said before, I don’t think it would have directly impacted Oregon’s work. We already had gotten the agreement from the federal government to move our health care delivery system in this direction.
There might have been some questions about the impact on the health insurance exchange, and certainly we wouldn’t have the Medicaid expansion that we’re going to get now. But the core elements of our program, which is really modifying the way that Oregon has delivered care, will go ahead.
GN: It looks like other states will have to adjust how they extend care to their residents, perhaps be more like Oregon from now on. What’s your advice to other governors as they go through this process?
JK: Well, again, I think it’s very, very important for governors and political leaders and business and civic leaders to say, look, the cost of health care is not a republican issue or a democratic issue, it should not be used as a political football. It is a very real problem. It’s driving our national debt. It’s preventing us from investing in education, in workforce development and economic development. Let’s put this unfortunate, bitter dialogue behind us and let’s move forward together. We can do this. We’ve demonstrated that here in Oregon.
GN: Thank you very much, governor.
JK: Thank you.
To hear this conversation, click the audio icon above.