OHSU

K. John McConnell, Ph.D.

12/30/2009 - K. John McConnell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, was a familiar face in the legislative corridors of Salem in the most recent legislative session. Dr. McConnell, a health economist, acted as Chief Economic Advisor to the Oregon Health Fund Board

Image of Dr. Connell

K. John McConnell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, was a familiar face in the legislative corridors of Salem in the most recent legislative session. Dr. McConnell, a health economist, acted as Chief Economic Advisor to the Oregon Health Fund Board. Created in the 2007 legislative session, the Board's charge was to present a comprehensive plan for health care reform to the 2009 legislature.

"Oregon has a history of grappling with the difficult issues raised by health care reform, and people already understand that compromises are necessary," said Dr. McConnell. "I am cautiously optimistic about the state's prospects for meaningful reform."

As part of his role in informing Oregon's health policy discussions, Dr. McConnell recently calculated the value of Oregon's "cost-shift." The report estimated the effect of uncompensated care on the price of private insurance.

"We were particularly interested in tracking the impact of the contraction of the Oregon Health Plan over the last several years," said Dr. McConnell.

The analysis showed that the loss of coverage for an average OHP (Medicaid) beneficiary generated hospital uncompensated care costs of approximately $852, corresponding to approximately $1,352 in total (hospital, clinic and physician) uncompensated care costs.

"Conversations with Oregon health plans and providers suggest that the majority of this burden of uncompensated care is ultimately borne by those with private insurance," concludes the report. Dr. McConnell calculated that this "cost-shift" accounted for 6 to 9 percent of the average cost of commercial health insurance premiums.

Dr. McConnell also recently received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to evaluate the cost of Oregon's Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Parity law, which took effect in January 2007. The law requires that insurers cover behavioral health in the same way they do physical health.

"From an economic perspective, the question is: if you remove limits and improve access, how does that affect the total cost of care?" asked Dr. McConnell.

The study will analyze claims data two years before and after the enactment of the law. Six major Oregon commercial health plans are providing claims data to the study. The project, "Oregon's Parity Law: Comprehensive Parity in Today's Healthcare Environment," was funded for approximately $900,000 over 3 years. The results are likely to inform future discussion of the parity law, in Oregon as well as at the federal level.

"Oregon's Cost-Shift: The Effect of Public Insurance Coverage on Uncompensated Care" was funded by the Oregon Office of Health Policy Research through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration: click here for report. To learn more about the Health Fund Board: click here. To read more about the Center for Policy and Research on Emergency Medicine: click here.