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How does a state agency influence proposed legislation?

The Oregon Health Authority came up with a shocking approach: Try to plant negative news stories about a nonprofit that would benefit from the legislation.

The Portland Tribune's Nick Budnick reported Aug. 4 that the OHA plotted to find a disgruntled patient and anonymously connect that patient with a newspaper. The goal was to have the newspaper publish a story that would damage FamilyCare's credibility. The OHA plan involved identifying friendly legislators and getting them to plant the stories so the OHA could appear neutral.

FamilyCare is a Portland-area nonprofit that provides care to low-income Medicaid patients under the OHA's supervision. The two were in a court dispute because FamilyCare said OHA set reimbursement rates too low.

No newspaper stories resulted, but a bill that would have helped FamilyCare died in committee in the recent session of the Legislature.

The plan came from OHA's communications staff and was not formally approved, but Budnick found evidence that OHA Director Lynne Saxton signaled her approval in an email, saying some new developments "will build on the already good start you have outlined."

FamilyCare is one of the state's 16 coordinated care organizations. It has been a vehement critic of the OHA, Budnick reported, accusing the agency of incompetence and trying to damage the nonprofit.

FamilyCare had a lower rate of reimbursement than other CCOs because it had a healthier population, Budnick reported. The agency also said FamilyCare was "taking advantage of taxpayer money" by paying providers more than Medicaid required. FamilyCare said it did so to make sure patients could get appointments and to focus on prevention.

Whatever the merits of the rate argument, the notion of a state agency seeking to influence the Legislature by secretly planting negative stories reveals an appalling lack of ethical standards.

Budnick found numerous references to the OHA's interest in maintaining its reputation. Clearly, the agency has done exactly the opposite with its underhanded tactics.

— The Bend Bulletin