Oregon Gov. Kate Brown seems satisfied that convincing Lynne Saxton to resign as head of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) as of Thursday neatly solves the problem created by OHA’s outrageous, but fortunately never deployed, campaign to publicly smear one of the state’s Medicaid providers.
Saxton certainly should have resigned. She was in charge of the agency and thus ultimately responsible for OHA’s “communications plan” that called for employees, potentially using legislators as surrogates, to try to prompt media reports suggesting that FamilyCare, a Portland-based company that provides services to people on the Oregon Health Plan, is motivated more by profits than by taking care of customers. FamilyCare has had a contentious relationship with the OHA; the nonprofit has filed two lawsuits against the state agency related to how OHA sets reimbursement rates to FamilyCare and other providers.
The communications plan, which never made it past the draft stage, also sought to promote one of FamilyCare’s competitors, Health Share of Oregon, as a sort of white knight. An especially obnoxious idea floated by OHA was to find a patient, potentially one infected with HIV, who would laud Health Share’s work while condemning FamilyCare.
It seems obvious that OHA employees recognized how egregiously unprofessional the communications plan was.
When the Portland Tribune newspaper sought public records related to the smear campaign, OHA initially responded by releasing records so heavily redacted that they were meaningless. Eventually the agency relented, as it must under Oregon’s Public Records Law.
The more complete records showed how many OHA employees were involved in crafting the communications plan, as well as Saxton’s support of the general concept.
The taxpayer-funded machinations by OHA require more than just Saxton’s resignation.
State Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer who is a member of the Senate General Government and Accountability Committee, has asked the Committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, to conduct a legislative inquiry into OHA with a goal of learning more about how the communications plan came about.
Riley agreed, saying in a press release: “It is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that state agencies are accountable for their actions. The Committee on General Government and Accountability is the best group to begin delving into this issue and asking questions that Oregonians deserve to have answered.”
The inquiries will happen during the Committee’s meetings Sept. 18-20 in Salem. We look forward to reviewing the legislators’ findings.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.