Kitzhaber is well-known both to Oregonians and to healthcare observers. He served two terms as governor, from 1995 to 2003, and was barred from running for a third consecutive term by limits in the state constitution. As a state senator in the 1990s, Kitzhaber was chief author of a plan to reform Oregon's Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan, requiring a waiver from the federal government.
Kitzhaber, a former physician in emergency medicine, is known in the healthcare community as a staunch supporter of healthcare reform, although he has noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did more to reform payers' activities than healthcare providers'. He founded the Archimedes Movement in 2006 to push the issue of reforming the healthcare delivery and payment. He also was named one of Modern Healthcare's "30 for the Future" in August 2006.