Measure 101--We Can Have It Both Ways

Date: January 18, 2018

Let’s set the record straight: It is completely understandable for someone to support health-care coverage for low-income Oregonians and still vote “No” on Ballot Measure 101—the only item up for consideration for the January 23 special election.

Measure 101 will ask voters to either uphold or reject the 2017 Legislature’s plan to raise revenue for the 2017-2019 Oregon Health Plan (OHP) budget, and the state’s new reinsurance program, by imposing a 1.5 percent tax on commercial insurance premiums and a 0.7 percent tax on certain hospitals. (OHP is Oregon’s Medicaid program and is administered by the Oregon Health Authority.) 

Supporters of Measure 101 argue that without the new revenue from these “assessments” as many as 300,000 low-income Oregonians could lose their health-care coverage. They have attempted to equate a “No” vote with a hard-hearted, mean-spirited desire to see those in poverty, including children, denied the health-care services they need. 

This line of thinking would have you believe that Measure 101 is the only option and Oregonians wouldn’t support an alternative approach. Nonsense! House Majority Leader Jennifer Wilson alluded to other approaches in an October 31 interview with the Portland Tribune, “I think if the ballot measure doesn’t pass, then figuring out how we stabilize health care in Oregon and ensure that Oregonians have access to health care will be the priority, and probably the only thing we work on in the February session.”

It would behoove lawmakers to start preparing for Ballot Measure 101’s possible loss, now, because there are good reasons for voting against it.

For Oregon’s small businesses, which are 99 percent of all businesses in the state, the major problem with Measure 101 is who pays for it – and who doesn’t. While big businesses might be able to self-insure, local small- to mid-sized businesses will be stuck paying higher health care premiums. Self-insured plans would not be subject to the 1.5 percent premium tax, giving yet another competitive advantage to large corporations over our smaller, home-grown, Oregon companies.

Another reason for rejecting Measure 101 is the well-documented and prevalent financial mismanagement that has plagued the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Oregonians have every right to be skeptical about sending more money to the agency before administrators can restore the public trust in OHA and assure taxpayers that the money they have is being well-spent.

Past scandals and poor management have left a bad taste in the mouths of those always asked to pay: the $300 million Cover Oregon fiasco; the backlog of OHP enrollees who weren’t eligible for the benefit (47,600 of 115,235 were determined to be ineligible); OHA’s secret public relations smear campaign against one of the Coordinated Care Organizations (CCO’s) that resulted in the ousting if the agency’s former director; and the $74 million worth of overpayments from OHA to the CCO’s for patients that were Medicare eligible, but still on Medicaid (OHP).

Then, on November 17, OHA’s new Director Pat Allen sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown estimating an additional $112 million in erroneous Medicaid payments. That figure was just an estimate and many of the issues are still being analyzed by the agency.

Is it reasonable for Oregon voters to be unconvinced that the problems at OHA are behind us? Absolutely.

Furthermore, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, after his office’s Audits Division pored over OHA’s operation, estimates a savings of nearly $100 million now that the backlog of ineligible OHP enrollees is complete, an amount that could go a long way in re-balancing the state budget should voters reject Measure 101. 

In other words, the Legislature is fully capable of passing an alternative plan should Measure 101 fail. So, all of us can have it both ways: Voting ‘No’ on Measure 101 without punishing low-income Oregonians.

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