When Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced the results of last week's Oregon Health Authority audit, he blasted the “Agency of Wasteful Spending” but also highlighted “one positive point from such depressing news.”
The 2017-19 OHA budget was based on an overstated Medicaid caseload, stemming from a backlog of 115,235 eligibility checks, Richardson said in his Secretary of State newsletter. OHA assumed the entire 115,235, but 47,600 people were ultimately deemed ineligible — thus freeing up $100 million for the General Fund, Richardson said.
He included a link to a slide from a May 23 OHA presentation as support indicating the larger number was included in the forecast, and he did the math: "47,600 x $383 x 24 months x 22.5% state G.F. portion of total cost of benefits."
OHA Director Patrick Allen, however, says Richardson is mistaken, and there is no $100 million windfall.
“The Secretary of State’s assertion that OHA included the entire 115,233 clean-up population in our budget forecast and that we owe the General Fund $100 million is not accurate,” Allen said. “OHA anticipated that a portion of this population would be found ineligible through the clean-up process and adjusted the caseload number downward to account for this.”
Allen has disputed the claim on several occasions, including in a publicly available action plan in August and an October meeting with the Secretary of State's auditor, said OHA spokeswoman Saerom England. She provided charts of "exit rates" showing OHA's caseload forecast closely tracking with the actual numbers each month.
"We are standing by the explanation that we have provided the public, elected officials, and the Secretary of State’s audit team," England said. "The caseload report shows clearly that our caseload is actually slightly higher than what we forecasted, not the other way around.”
Furthermore, the Legislative Fiscal Office's analysis noted (on page 65) that while OHA's caseload forecast "has included the estimated impact and timing of the redetermination process, it has added an element of uncertainty."
The disparity between Richardson’s and OHA’s numbers might be mostly academic if it were not for a looming ballot initiative: Measure 101. On Jan. 23, Oregon voters will decide whether to approve $320 million of health care assessments, or taxes, that passed in the Legislature over the summer.
Proponents say the taxes are necessary to preserve coverage for 350,000 low-income Oregonians that gained coverage through the Medicaid expansion and to create a reinsurance fund to stabilize the individual market.
The three Republican representatives who challenged the tax package with the referendum argue the taxes are unfair and unnecessary, in part because of the $100 million.
“I’m going to trust the auditors of the Secretary of State,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, a Republican from West Linn who is one of the three lawmakers behind the effort (and who did political consulting for Richardson's campaign).
OHA's England said, in response, that the auditors did not make any assertion about the $100 million — only Richardson mentioned it in his newsletter.
Parrish was on her way to Grants Pass with fellow Republican Rep. Cedric Hayden of Cottage Grove, who also referred the measure, for a meeting with the local newspaper’s editorial board.
The Baker City Herald also cited Richardson’s statement in its editorial urging voters to defeat the measure.
Richardson, while not urging a "no" vote outright, had this to say in his newsletter: "Soon Oregon voters will be considering whether or not to approve tax increases intended to provide additional funding to the OHA. With such abysmal examples of OHA misfeasance and obfuscation, OHA faces tough questions about its credibility and its ability to appropriately spend the money it is provided."