Oregon voters approve health care tax measure

Oregon voters Tuesday approved taxes on health care providers to fund the Oregon Health Plan.

Capital Bureau

SALEM — Oregon voters appear to have approved a slate of health care taxes to help fund Medicaid in a referendum vote Tuesday.

Nearly 61 percent of voters approved keeping certain taxes on health insurance premiums, hospitals and managed care organizations, and about 39 percent voted to overturn them, according to unofficial, preliminary results posted at 9:29 p.m. by the Oregon Secretary of State.

The result lifts significant financial pressure off state lawmakers as they prepare to enter the short legislative session that begins Feb. 5.

Rejection of the package would have meant a $210 million to $320 million loss in state revenues, plus additional matching funds from the federal government, that were anticipated to help the state pay for Medicaid.

About 960,000 Oregonians are on Medicaid, which here is called the Oregon Health Plan.

The campaign pitted public unions and health care groups against two Republican lawmakers who led the campaign after petitioning to get certain parts of the 2017 legislation on the ballot this fall.

The “Yes For Healthcare” campaign raised about $3 million more than the “No” side, according to campaign finance records.

The “Yes” campaign was quick to celebrate the effort after preliminary results were posted by the Secretary of State’s office shortly after 8 p.m.

In a statement, Andy Davidson, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said the state’s hospitals were “deeply gratified” by the results.

“Tonight’s vote is an affirmation of our belief that Oregon is better off with a robust Medicaid program for our most vulnerable citizens,” Davidson said in a statement.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portand, praised voters.

“Oregonians were loud and clear tonight: Health care is a right that we will protect,” she said in a statement. “By passing Measure 101, Oregon voters affirmed that everyone has a right to access affordable health care – regardless of where they live or where they work. Thank you, Oregon voters, for keeping the state moving forward.”

State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton is a family physician who chairs the budget-writing subcommittee that would have been tasked with reconciling the state’s budget had the measure failed.

“This win means we can get back to doing what we need to do without reinventing the wheel,” Steiner Hayward said.

State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, who with fellow Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, led the campaign to get the taxes on the ballot, maintains that she and Hayden were trying to “blow the whistle” on what she feels is an unfair system of paying for public health care.

“The real story is like 11 months from now, when the budget is in a crisis, because the Legislature didn’t get the Medicaid budget funded correctly,” Parrish said.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said in a statement that Tuesday’s loss meant that legislators needed to address inefficiencies in the state’s healthcare system.

In the past year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ousted and replaced top leadership at the Oregon Health Authority amid a publicity scandal, and the health agency has also dealt with problems determining patient eligibility and making accurate payments to providers.

“Our state’s health care programs have suffered from chronic failures for years,” McLane said. “This culture of incompetence cannot be excused or forgotten in the wake of this ballot measure.”

The Secretary of State’s Office reported unofficial turnout of 32.43 percent, or 855,422 ballots.

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