Rising health care costs in Oregon burden employers and residents

By Regence
May 02, 2024
Health care affordability panel

Main image, L-R: Katie Martin, CEO and president, Health Care Cost Institute; Bill Kramer, senior adviser for health policy, Purchaser Business Group on Health; Matt Swanson, political strategist, SEIU Oregon State Council; Mary Anne Cooper, director of public affairs and government relations, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon

A new analysis of health care spending in Oregon by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) finds health care prices are increasing rapidly in Oregon, placing a significant burden on employers and residents.

HCCI’s analysis shows spending on health care for people with employer-sponsored insurance rose by 24% from 2017 to 2021, with the average person spending $5,770 per year. The rise, which excludes spending on health insurance premiums, is predominantly attributed to soaring prices for medical care.

Key findings:

Watch a video recap of the event

  • Hospital costs made up 44 cents of every dollar spent on health care in Oregon
  • Hospital markets are highly concentrated in Oregon leading to decreased competition and inflated prices
  • Oregonians pay more for services performed in a hospital outpatient setting than services performed in an independent doctor’s office
  • Disparities in pricing for identical services persist within the state, with prices varying widely based on provider and insurance coverage
  • The price of emergency room (ER) visits is going up even as use is declining, suggesting visits are being billed as high severity or “upcoded” and subsequently more expensive

Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon convened a panel of nationally and locally recognized experts to discuss these findings and related impacts and share perspectives on potential policy solutions. Panelists included:

  • Katie Martin, CEO and president, Health Care Cost Institute
  • Bill Kramer, senior adviser for health policy, Purchaser Business Group on Health
  • Matt Swanson, political strategist, SEIU Oregon State Council
Michael Cole at HCCI panel
Michael Cole, president of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon

“Affordability is the top concern that we hear from our members. They want access to health care at an affordable price point. Prescription drug costs and provider costs drive 89% of our spending. We cannot have a conversation about lowering health care costs without understanding the trends and drivers of health care costs,” said Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon President Michael Cole. “This isn’t a one-player game. It’s going to take all of us having conversations and working together if we’re going to make any meaningful change.”

Panelists agreed that a mixture of innovative private action and public policy advocacy is needed to address spiraling health care costs. For Regence, that includes national leadership in biosimilar adoption and site-of-care programs to help patients find more affordable care outside of expensive hospitals without sacrificing quality of care.

On the public policy front, Kramer said employers can use their experience to help shape state policy, citing cost growth targets and prohibitions on anti-competitive practices and the use of facility fees as examples. “Employers can’t solve the intensifying affordability crisis alone, but there are public policy solutions to help make the market work better,” he said.

Read more in an article about the event from the Portland Business Journal.