You’re likely to see the number 350,000 often between now and Jan. 23, 2018, when Oregon voters will cast their ballots on Measure 101, which would adopt a slate of health care taxes the Legislature approved earlier this year.
The 350,000 figure is the estimated number of Oregonians enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan who, according to Measure 101 supporters, could lose health insurance if voters reject the measure.
This is no minor issue in Baker County, where an estimated 11 percent of the population — more than 1,500 people — could be affected by cuts to health insurance programs for low-income residents.
But we believe there are other ways to ensure all those Oregonians retain the coverage they received through an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Moreover, those ways do not require Oregon to impose taxes for the next two years on some larger city hospitals (St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker County would not be subject to the tax) as well as on an estimated 15,500 small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees, and to an estimated 230,000 residents, including more than 11,000 college students, who buy insurance in the private market.
Measure 101’s origins are in a bill the Oregon Legislature passed earlier this year. House Bill 2391 includes a 1.5-percent tax on insurance premiums paid by managed care organizations (such as HMOs), some public employees and an estimated 217,000 Oregonians who buy insurance, including some who receive subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. The bill also includes a 0.7-percent tax on net revenues for some larger hospitals. The taxes would cease after two years.
Two Republican legislators, Reps. Julie Parrish of Tualatin and Cedric Hayden of Roseburg, led a campaign that gathered enough signatures to get Measure 101 on the ballot. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing, though. Although Parrish and Hayden put Measure 101 on the Jan. 23 ballot, they’re urging Oregonians to vote no on the measure. That’s because if the measure fails, some parts of House Bill 2391 — including the taxes on insurance premiums and on some hospitals — would not happen. Both lawmakers voted against House Bill 2391.
If voters reject Measure 101, that would reduce the bill’s revenue by an estimated $330 million. According to Measure 101 proponents (who also supported House Bill 2391), that would put those 350,000 Oregonians in peril of losing coverage under the Oregon Health Plan.
Parrish and Hayden disagree. We think they make a compelling argument, which is why we urge Oregonians to vote no on Measure 101 next month.
The state can continue to enroll those 350,000 Oregonians by tapping other revenue sources, two of which were announced earlier this week, and potentially by cutting wasteful spending in health care.
The state, according to its own economists, will collect about $47 million more this fiscal year in tax and Lottery revenues than was projected. In addition, economists project the state’s revenue for the next two-year budget cycle, which starts July 1, 2019, will exceed previous forecasts by about $158 million.
On Wednesday the Secretary of State’s office released an audit of the Oregon Health Authority that found the agency overestimated its caseload of Medicaid recipients by 47,600. That mistake will make almost $100 million available to the Legislature during the current biennium, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Parrish and Hayden say they’re committed not only to defeating Measure 101, but also to promoting bills in the month-long legislative session, which starts Feb. 5, 2018, that would save even more money and further solidify the Oregon Health Plan without imposing taxes or otherwise making health insurance even more expensive for Oregonians. One of these bills would transition some public employees into the health exchange, a move that former Gov. John Kitzhaber estimated could save the state $1 billion over a two-year budget cycle.
Measure 101 proponents contend the taxes in House Bill 2391 are necessary to prevent major cuts in the Oregon Health Plan. But the financial data show otherwise. Voters should reject those taxes and demand that lawmakers take advantage of their other options rather than increasing the burden on Oregonians already struggling to afford health insurance.