Push is on for adjournment: OHSU on track to get $200M cancer request

Push is on for adjournment: OHSU on track to get $200M cancer request
The Oregon Senate meets on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at the state Capitol in Salem, Ore. The Legislature is pushing to adjourn as soon as Friday. (AP Photo/Chad Garland)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature moved late Thursday to give Oregon Health & Science University all of the $200 million it requested for cancer research facilities.

The OHSU money was included in six budget bills approved in the Ways and Means Committee as lawmakers raced to adjourn the five-week legislative session. The House and Senate are scheduled to take them up, along with a few other last-minute measures, on Friday.

OHSU would get just over $200 million to pay for new research and clinic space in Portland. The money will help the university meet a challenge from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who says he'll donate $500 million if the school can get an equal amount elsewhere. The school hopes to recruit top-ranked researchers to focus on early detection of cancer.

OHSU would not get the state money unless it successfully raises the rest, and construction contractors would be required to pay a prevailing wage and meet requirements for employing apprentices.

"We are making this commitment with a set of expectations that are incredibly important and should be followed," House Speaker Tina Kotek said.

Not included, however, was a requirement that OHSU treat all patients on the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program providing health insurance to the poor. That had been the subject of weeks of behind-the-scenes fighting among health care companies, which spilled into the open this week.

FamilyCare, one of the two coordinated care organizations that manage care for Oregon Health Plan patients in the Portland area, says OHSU filed suit about a year ago over its reimbursement rate and has recently been refusing nonemergency care for some FamilyCare patients.

"They're acting like a bully," said Jeff Heatherington, FamilyCare's chief executive.

When OHSU announced its request for $200 million, FamilyCare lobbied for language that would require OHSU to offer all its services to all Oregon Health Plan patients. That didn't materialize, and Kotek instead secured only a requirement for a work group to look into how health care providers might improve access to care for Medicaid patients.

"As a publicly funded institution, they should be open to all the citizens of Oregon," Heatherington said.

OHSU officials say they have to constantly manage their limited capacity and sometimes have to turn away people from insurers they don't have a contract with.

"If they require complex care uniquely available at OHSU, we see the patient regardless of coverage," OHSU said in a statement. "If their condition does not require treatment at OHSU, we inform the patient they can be seen by an in-network provider in the community."

OHSU treats FamilyCare patients the same way it treats patients from any other insurer it doesn't contract with, said Brian Shipley, an OHSU lobbyist. Nothing's changed in the way it treats FamilyCare patients, he said, although an increase in Medicaid patients under the federal health care law may be increasing the number of referrals to OHSU.

Aside from the OHSU money, lawmakers approved $29 million in building projects at five state universities and a variety of construction plans around the state, including a storm water project in Stayton, a library in Cornelius and a courthouse in Jefferson County.

The Legislature also took steps to get the state budget back in balance. Revenue is coming in slightly lower than anticipated and the state is facing a massive $40 million bill from an active 2013 wildfire season along with higher labor costs. Meanwhile, the departments of Corrections and Human Services have said their costs are higher than expected and they expect to be short on cash.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler's proposal to restructure his investment board narrowly cleared the Ways and Means Committee despite fears from some lawmakers that the Legislature wouldn't have sufficient oversight.

Also on the table still is an effort by Democrats to rewrite the ballot title for a referendum on extending driving privileges to people who can't prove they're legally in the United States. The measure passed the House but has struggled in the Senate.

Republicans are hoping to adjourn in time to make it to the annual Dorchester Conference, a gathering of Republicans in Seaside that begins Friday evening.
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