SALEM — The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the ballot title on the referendum on the states health care funding scheme must be clearer.
Three Republican lawmakers — State Reps. Julie Parrish, of Tualatin/West Linn; Cedric Hayden, of Roseburg; and Sal Esquivel, of Medford — want to repeal parts of a state law that requires health care providers and insurers to pay assessments to the state for its Medicaid program.
The three had argued that the ballot title approved by a legislative committee in September didn’t fully or clearly explain the effects of the potential repeal.
A ballot title is the official written material that voters see. In Oregon, a ballot title includes a caption, summary and statements that explain the results of a “yes” and a “no” vote.
The court found that the caption needed to explain the assessments with more detail or describe them as “taxes,” and explain that insurers were allowed to increase certain premiums under the law.
The “yes” and “no” vote result statements, the court determined, should also be changed to better explain the direct effects of the measure.
The court also said that the statement and the summary should not address an open legal question — whether or not temporary assessments on hospitals would be delayed or removed altogether as part of the referendum.
The ballot title “no” statement currently says that a part of the law that the petitioners want to repeal would merely be delayed, due to how the referendum petition was written.
That’s a matter of legal interpretation, the court said, and added it should be resolved at a later time, in the event that voters vote “no” and the partial repeal is successful.
The court did reject some of the petitioners’ arguments.
For example, the court found it was appropriate to include, as ballot title writers did, that the revenues went toward health care for low-income individuals and families, and “stabilizing reinsurance premiums” through a reinsurance program.
Parrish had previously raised questions about the process used to write the materials that the Supreme Court said on Wednesday should be changed.
Separate legislation had created a committee of four Democrats and two Republicans to write the ballot title for the healthcare referendum, although typically the Attorney General does that.
The ballot title was approved in a 5-to-1 vote by the committee assigned to write it. The sole dissenter was Republican Rep. Greg Smith, of Heppner.
Both opponents and supporters of the referendum say the ruling is a victory.
“The court affirmed nearly 100 percent of our concerns which the partisan legislative committee completely ignored,” Hayden said in a written statement on Wednesday. “Their direction clearly demonstrates why the Legislature shouldn’t have hijacked the time-tested ballot title process which otherwise balances the powers between the three branches of government.”
Yet, their opponents — the Yes on Healthcare Campaign — said that the Supreme Court’s decision meant that the ballot title committee was “substantially accurate in the description of Measure 101.”
“The court affirmed that Measure 101 is a temporary assessment, that it funds health care services for low-income individuals and families and that it will stabilize health insurance premiums,” campaign spokeswoman Patty Wentz said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “In addition, the ruling called for technical fixes to rearrange some language. This is great news and voters have been well-served by this process.”
The ballot title will be referred to the Attorney General, who is tasked with making the changes.