POLK COUNTY — Statewide elections start early this year with a special election on Jan. 23.
Voters will be asked one question in this early election: Yes or no on Ballot Measure 101.
In Ballot Measure 101, voters are asked to uphold or reject portions of House Bill 2391, approved by the State Legislature in the 2017 session.
Yes or no?
What: Ballot Measure 101.
What’s at stake: A yes vote upholds the portions of House Bill 2391, which taxes some insurers and hospitals to pay for Medicaid. The bill was passed by the Oregon Legislature during the 2017 session. A no vote rejects those taxes, causing a shortfall that legislators may have to fill during the 2018 short session that begins in February.
When is the election? Jan. 23. Ballot should be in the mail this week.
For more information about Ballot Measure 101 and to see arguments for and against the measure:http://sos.oregon..."> http://sos.oregon....
The bill filled funding gaps to pay for Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income adults, children, families, and individuals with disabilities.
The legislation also addressed stabilizing premiums insurance companies charge to individuals and families purchasing health insurance.
HB 2391 uses a 1.5 percent tax on premiums on policies purchased through health insurance companies, the Public Employees Benefit Board and managed care organizations for a two-year period.
Additionally, the bill charged a 0.7 percent tax on the net revenue of larger hospitals in the state.
The bill passed on nearly a party-line vote — three Republicans in the Senate and one Republican in the House joined Democrats voting in favor of the legislation — with a chance the bill would be referred to voters.
Anticipating such an effort, legislators passed Senate Bill 229, designating Jan. 23 as the date voters would decide whether the portions of HB 2391 referred would stand or fall.
Three legislators, Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) and Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) were successful in petitioning to put the bill on the ballot. They encourage people to vote no on the measure, and believe there are other options to provide funding.
They also objected to the bill allowing insurance companies to charge customers to offset the 1.5 percent assessment. Parrish said that amounts to a sales tax on health insurance.
“By definition, this section is a sales tax on health care, and worse, it’s a sales tax only for those who buy their insurance in the marketplace,” Parrish said in an announcement of the petition effort in July. “Large corporations and unions will be held harmless from a sales tax on health insurance.”
That some will be taxed on their insurance and others not — such as people insured through companies with 50 or more employees or self-insured businesses — makes the measure unfair, said Andrew Miller, the chief executive officer of Stimson Lumber Company.
Miller said the responsibility for paying for these programs should rest on all taxpayers.
“We can no longer protect big businesses and unions from funding statewide services,” Miller wrote in a letter urging a no vote. “Tax deals, carve-outs and special treatment for corporations have weakened Oregon’s middle class and lower classes as they pick up more of the tab. If we truly believe in equity, then everyone should have skin in the game. Taxing a small percentage of Oregonians to pay for the state’s Medicaid population is not the answer.”
Supporters say Ballot Measure 101 is the only way to ensure coverage for about 350,000 patients on Medicaid. A no vote would cut Medicaid funding by $210 million to $320 million and risk the loss of $5 billion in federal matching funds, according to Yes for Healthcare, a group advocating for the measure.
“Measure 101 protects health care coverage for the hundreds of thousands of kids, families, seniors and people with disabilities on the Oregon Health Plan,” said senators Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) in a letter supporting the measure. “Measure 101 stabilizes insurance markets, saving working families an average of $300 per year on their insurance premiums.”
Courtney is the majority leader in the Oregon Senate, while Ferrioli served as the minority leader at the time HB 2391 passed.
The timing of the election allows for the legislature to rework its budget during the legislative session that begins in February if the measure fails.
The prospect of lawmakers searching for money to plug into Medicaid should the measure fail concerns those whose budgets depend on money from the state’s general fund, namely education.
The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, Oregon School Boards Association and other education groups support the measure.
“I think it was well-known that we got the $8.2 billion state school fund when we adopted the budget was behind House Bill 2391,” said Debbie MacLean, Dallas School District’s business manager, reported to the Dallas School Board during a December meeting. “By enacting that legislation, they were able to tap into some federal dollars that filled the $1.5 billion hole in their current state services for health insurance for Oregonians.”
MacLean informed the board of concerns the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators has if the measure fails, including that school budgets could be reduced if the legislature shifted money from schools to pay for Medicaid. She said the state school fund is the biggest expense in the state’s general fund.
“This is very much a concern for school districts at this point,” she said.