Measure 101 will have a dramatic impact on people living in northern Tillamook County, according to several people at a recent forum on the ballot referendum.
Especially if it loses Jan. 23.
“The expansion of Medicaid has allowed our clinic to offer a new form of primary care. We are no longer serving just the sick. We can start working on preventative care,” said Denise Weiss, a community-based registered nurse for more than a decade. She has been working at the Rinehart Clinic in Wheeler for two years.
The clinic has 30-minute appointments where people work as a team with the patient to find out what the underlying causes of their diseases are, Weiss explained during Thursday’s forum at Tillamook Bay Community College.
The Rinehart Clinic is a non-profit that treats anyone who walks, she added. Once the problem is discovered, there are a number of ways to help the patients.
“It may be a nurse. It may be a community health worker to set up an appointment to come to their home and talk to them about what is going on at home.
“If a family does not have access to food, or is worried about their housing next month, of course their diabetes is going to be uncontrolled. “Their blood pressure is going to be increased if they are fighting to feed their family,” she said.
“Under Oregon’s current law, we are finally starting to look at the root cause of the illness. It is no longer get a prescription and walk out the door… and you are ‘cured’.”
“We are actually starting to see what is going on in their home life that would affect their chronic illness,” Weiss explained.
When people are without health care, they will turn to emergency rooms for primary care needs, she said.
That can create more problems.
“The emergency room and urgent care will not look at the root cause. It is not their purpose. When children and the underserved go without insurance, they will not seek preventative care.
“We are only getting started in Oregon offering preventative care instead of sick care.”
The clinic is already starting to partner with local community groups such as NCRD (North County Recreation District), the Manzanita Market (“Little Apple”) grocery store and local organic farms in a general diabetes risk reduction program, she said.
“We give patients tools to control their diabetes. If you show up for our group classes, we will provide you with incentives. We will send you home with a box of organic veggies. If you complete a six-week period of nurse education, we will give you a fitness pass to go to NCRD.
“We are giving people tools to change the cycle of chronic illness,” Weiss explained.
Patients without insurance cannot access those tools, she added.
Locals have stake
According to Heather White, a panelist who works for the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization and also for the Yes for Healthcare Campaign, she has a stake in what happens in Tillamook County since she lives in Rockaway Beach and works for a company that handles Medicare for Tillamook, Clatsop and Columbia counties.
“We love this community and we want to see it continue on a healthy and successful path. We believe that Measure 101 is an important part of that,” she said. “Our work doesn’t only affect the Oregon Health Plan members, it affects the entire community.”
The organization provides benefits to about one-third of the county’s adults and children, White explained. “Over 90 percent of what is important to a person’s health status is what happens outside the clinics,” she said.
Measure 101 is why the organization can make a positive impact, she added. “We have a new partnership with the YMCA that covers each of our members and reduces the cost taken out of the YMCA scholarship fund so that our members have better access to healthier activities.”
The ballot measure seeks the approval of voters to set up a temporary tax on certain healthcare insurance packages and hospitals in order to fund the expanded Medicare services provided by Affordable Care Act.
In addition to Weiss and White, the panel included Romy Carver, Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization (CCO); Trish Garner, AAUW State Public Policy Chair; Frank Hanna-Williams, Tillamook Family Counseling Center and David Butler, President/CEO of Adventist Health’s Tillamook Regional Medical Center.
For Butler, the ballot measure is crucial to ensuring health care coverage to the people of Tillamook County.
“No matter where you live or work, or what your job is, you should be able to see a doctor or nurse. You should be able to get medications when you are sick. You shouldn’t need to go bankrupt. Measure 101 holds down the costs and takes the steps to make basic healthcare affordable,” he said.
Butler also quoted an editorial by former Gov. John Kitzhaber, which was published statewide in support of Measure 101 in December.
Kitzhaber focused on the fact that what was in the measure was passed by both houses of the Oregon state legislature.
“I agree that the funding for the Oregon Health Plan is a shared social responsibility, but jeopardizing health insurance coverage for 350,000 Oregonians to make that point is equally unfair and unnecessary. We need a stable long term and equitable funding strategy which doesn’t contribute to the state’s chronic budget deficit.
“Should the ballot measure be defeated, there will be a number of immediate consequences,” Kitzhaber said in his response. “First, 350,000 working Oregonians will lose their health insurance coverage and the Oregon economy would lose billions in federal funds,” Kitzhaber said in the editorial.
Defeat will hurt
According to Frank Hanna-Williams of Tillamook Family Counseling Center, there is a very good reason to support the measure on the ballot.
“Last year, we served 1,700 residents of Tillamook County and as of this particular moment, approximately 60 to 65 percent of the individuals that we serve have the Oregon Health Plan.
“The rest of the persons that we serve have other means to reimburse for their services. This ballot measure focuses in on the 350,000 persons who are included in the expanded criteria population. For the most part those are folks who are on the lower end of the scale. They may be working in jobs that don’t pay that much and as a result of that, they are covered by the expanded criteria of the Oregon Health Plan,” he said.
Carver sees impact
According to Romy Carver, who also works for Columbia Pacific, making sure that people have health care in Tillamook County is important.
“I have personally seen the difference it has made in the lives of people who are depending on it in order to receive medical care.
“In fact, one in four Oregonians and one in three in Tillamook County are now able to breathe easier because they have health coverage. They can now go to have that lump checked, manage that diabetes or get to a dentist when they are suffering pain from an abscessed tooth.
“I worked at DHS before the days of Medicare expansion and I personally watched people deteriorate because they could not afford cancer treatment… even with kids to raise and no health options. I have seen people have to choose between medication or food.
“It shouldn’t be that way here,” she said.
Loss would cost billions
According to Trish Garner, if Measure 101 fails on the January ballot, then everybody can expect insurance rates to go up. Garner was on the panel as a representative of the American Association of University Women.
“Funding for health care would be cut by between $210 to $320 million. We don’t lose just these dollars, but we also lose billions in matching federal funding.
“Our fellow Oregonians face losing health care benefits or health care all together. That is one in four Oregonians – our neighbors and friends – including 400,000 kids,” she explained. “If one in four Oregonians is on the Oregon Health Plan, then someone you know or care about is depending on this health plan.”