Governor Kitzhaber will be sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama's box tonight as the President delivers his State of the Union Address. Kitzhaber's presence will be highlighted on national television when Obama talks about health care and Medicaid reform.
While in the role of a prop tonight, Kitzhaber has been anything but inert in pushing for health care transformation. His energy for health care reform, early adoption of the health insurance exchange and his push for changes in the health care delivery system have thrust Oregon to the forefront. His ideas for change have won widespread support among health care providers and insurers, business leaders and legislators on both sides of the political aisle.
Perhaps the most fundamental change Kitzhaber is pushing is a system of coordinated care organizations through the state that are charged with improving patient outcomes while reducing costs. Early efforts are aimed at problems such as treatment of complex, chronic diseases to avoid unnecessary hospitalization or prescription drugs.
Oregonians are too often reflected nationally by the shenanigans of Tonya Harding or the caricatures of the televised comedy, Portlandia. We may not know how to act when Oregon is singled out for praise in such a high-profile moment.
Kitzhaber will be joined in the First Lady's box by a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary, a police officer who responded to the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the parents of a girl killed by gunfire in Chicago, just days after she participated in Obama's inauguration. They will be reminders of the collateral damage of gun violence in America and symbols of why Obama is asking Congress to act on gun control.
The Washington Post carried a complete list of the Obama guest list, which includes Apple CEO Tim Cook and an undocumented student — all tips on the wide-ranging set of issues Obama will mention in his speech.
The Kitzhaber biography written by the White House staff cites his experience as a former emergency room doctor who is working with the Obama administration to "scale up models that show government can do more with less." "These performance partnerships, which emphasize federal flexibility and local accountability, are key to achieving improved health care outcomes and efficiencies, better results for our students and building the infrastructure we'll need to unleash the 21st century economy."
Kitzhaber also has pushed for reforms in early childhood education and better performance in K-12 schools through student achievement compacts. He is pressing the postsecondary sector to gear up to ensure that at least 40 percent of Oregon adults have a bachelor or other advanced degree and another 40 percent have an associate degree or some kind of postsecondary certificate demonstrating competency in a skill or career field.
The State of the Union Address won't be about Oregon, but a reference to some of the state's policy and on-the-ground achievements should make Oregonians beam with pride. Before you know it, we will back in the national spotlight for something stupid.