SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A tax on insurance companies and some hospitals to provide health care for low-income Oregonians goes before voters next month, even after it was approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor during the 2017 legislative session.
Three Republican lawmakers, arguing that the costs would be shifted to consumers, gathered enough signatures for a referendum to allow voters to say yes or no to the assessments — as the Democrats tend to call them— or taxes, the Republicans' favored wording.
There is a lot at stake in the Jan. 23 special election.
If voters say no to Measure 101, thereby eliminating or delaying the taxes, it will cause a drop of $210 million to $320 million in state revenue, resulting in a possible reduction of $630 million to $960 million or more in federal Medicaid matching funds, according to the Secretary of State's web site .
A "yes" vote would keep the 0.7 percent assessment on certain hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on insurers and coordinated-care organizations that facilitate the state's Medicaid program. A "no" result would force the Legislature, which runs from Feb. 5 to March 9, to search for money to replace the funds the state would then be deprived of.
The bill voters are being asked to endorse also provides funding for people with disabilities, and stabilizes premiums charged by insurance companies, which may not increase rates on health insurance premiums by more than 1.5 percent as a result of the new assessments.
Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, and Ted Ferrioli, who was the Senate Republican Leader until November, put out a joint statement in support of the healthcare tax.
"We don't always agree. But on Measure 101, there's no question: Oregonians should vote YES," Ferrioli and Courtney said.
"Measure 101 protects healthcare coverage for the hundreds of thousands of kids, families, seniors and people with disabilities on the Oregon Health Plan. Measure 101 stabilizes insurance markets, saving working families an average of $300 per year on their insurance premiums," they said.
Also in favor are dozens of organizations, including the Oregon PTA, the Oregon Nurses Association, AARP Oregon, the Coalition of Community Health Clinics and the Oregon Medical Association.
The Baker City Herald said in an editorial that an estimated 11 percent of Baker County's population could be affected by cuts to health insurance programs for low-income residents. But the newspaper said tapping other revenue sources would ensure insurance coverage without imposing taxes for the next two years on some hospitals and an estimated 15,500 small businesses that provide health insurance to employees.
Rep. Julie Parrish, chief petitioner of the ballot measure, dismissed concerns that people would lose healthcare coverage in a "no" result in the Jan. 23 special election.
"Nobody loses their health care on Jan. 24, and we're committed to that," Parrish, R-West Linn, said at a Portland debate this month, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
The Medicaid program "needs fixing," said Parrish.
"You know, sometimes the way to heal that broken bone that didn't heal right is to break it and reset it, and that's kind of what Measure 101 is about," Parrish said at the debate sponsored by the Oregon Health Forum.
The Oregon PTA responded on Twitter, writing that Parrish was saying "'let's take away healthcare for vulnerable families and see what happens.' #ThanksNoThanks that's not a plan that Oregon PTA is going to get behind."
The voter registration deadline for the special election is Jan. 2.