SALEM &

Rogue Valley industrial magnate Bill Thorndike Jr. gained Senate confirmation Thursday to the newly created Oregon Health Fund Board, tasked with developing a comprehensive plan to overhaul the state's health care delivery system.




"Health care reform is so critical for the state right now, and we can make a difference," Thorndike, a former trustee for the Rogue Valley Medical Center Foundation, said in a telephone interview Thursday.




Thorndike, co-owner and chairman of family-owned CSC, Inc., the holding company of Medford Fabrication, additionally has been nominated by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to lead the seven-member board in creating a roadmap to universal health care in Oregon.




"Everyone has an idea of how to solve this thing," he said. "The big challenge for us now is to keep as open of minds as we can and start working through all those pages and pages of things that everyone wants done in the next couple years."




Created by the 18-page Healthy Oregon Act, the panel has $2.3 million in state and federal funds to draft policy suggestions for lawmakers to consider in the 2009 legislative session, including how to guarantee all Oregonians' access to medical care, improve patient outcomes and renew the emphasis on preventive and primary care.




"For a lot of Oregonians the system today works pretty good," Thorndike said. "The dilemma is we know that it doesn't work very well for a portion of our population," alluding to the estimated 640,000 people in the state who lack health insurance.




If successful, supporters say the study group could serve as a model for other states similarly struggling to contain skyrocketing health care costs and address the financial strain the uninsured place on hospital emergency rooms.




Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council, said Thorndike is the right man to head the "monumental task" of improving health care quality, lowering costs and improving access to medical care in Oregon.




"He's a consensus builder and he's very, very smart, and ultimately he'll be able to draw people around a coherent plan that I hope we can all get behind," Wyse said, noting that Thorndike currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the Oregon Business Council, a group of about 50 business executives.




"He combines a good mind, good strategic sense with the ability to pull people together &

some very nice skills he brings to the task," Wyse said of Thorndike.




Despite how smart Thorndike and others on the board may be, Steve Buckstein, founder of the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute, doubts that they can deliver.




"They have a very ambitious task and I am skeptical they can do what they are charged with," Buckstein said from his Portland office. "They are all very smart, and they will try to do a very good job, and my prediction is they will fail."




Buckstein said the first step to making health care more affordable is for state lawmakers to deregulate the insurance industry and jettison the myriad of coverage mandates they have imposed on insurers, including forcing insurance companies to pay for such things as birth control pill and testing for prostate cancer among men, which drive up costs for everyone.




Health insurance, he said, is intended to cover "unplanned, catastrophic" illnesses and injuries. Such things as cancer screenings and birth control medications should be planned expenses, woven into household budgets, he said.




"There are about 3.5 million people in Oregon and they are trying to come up with on grand plan to for all," he said of the state Legislature.




State Sen. Alan Bates, the Ashland Democrat and primary care physician, was a dominate force behind the bipartisan legislation that created the task force. He said the health care system is broken and beset by bureaucracy, and Thorndike is the ideal person to lead the way to a healthier Oregon.




"The business world knows him and trusts him, and he has a deep knowledge of health care," Bates said of Thorndike, who serves also as treasurer of Medford-based Asante Health System and is a regional Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco board member.




"He had more people nominating him than you could shake a stick at," Bates added. "He is an excellent choice to lead the board."




The other board members include: Portland attorney Jonathan Ater, Eileen Brady, co-owner of Portland-based New Seasons Market; Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO; Ray Miao, president of the Oregon chapter of the AARP; Marcus Mundy, president of the Urban League of Portland; and Charles Hoffman, a physician and former mayor of Baker City.




covers the state Legislature for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.