CHRISTIAN DEWEESE The Mainstream
Oregon’s Medicaid system survived potential collapse, following the results of Jan. 23’s special election. Voters outside of Douglas County overwhelmingly gave their support to a set of tax proposals on hospitals and insurance companies that will pay for the state’s Medicaid expansion.
These results were quickly applauded by many of the state’s Democratic politicians. Sen. Merkley, who personally canvased in support of the measure along with Sen. Wyden, tweeted, “Bravo! Well, done my fellow Oregonians!”
Gov. Brown, in a speech at the “Yes for Healthcare” victory rally, said, “Every Oregonian deserves access to health care. Here in Oregon you should be able to see a doctor when you’re sick and get the medications when you need them, and it shouldn’t bankrupt you.”
On election night, Oregonians approved Measure 101 by a margin of roughly 61 to 39 percent, according to the unofficial results from the Secretary of State.
About 35 percent of the state’s 2.6 million eligible voters cast their ballot. Most of the measure’s support came from Multnomah County with 136,000 votes in favor. Douglas County residents broke from the majority and voted in opposition 58 to 41 percent.
The passing of Measure 101 approves sections of House bill 2391 that will instill a 0.7 percent tax on some hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on health insurance premiums. These taxes are guaranteed to raise $210 million to $320 million in the state’s current two-year budget and protect from a possible reduction of $630 to $960 million in matching federal Medicaid funds.
Despite the raise in taxes, the measure garnered the support of health care providers and organizations from all over the state, such as AARP Oregon, Kaiser Permanente and the Umpqua Health Alliance. These organizations argued it was the only way to ensure continued coverage for the nearly 1 million people covered by Medicaid. If the measure had been defeated, the medical coverage of the 350,000 Oregonians who gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act could have been on the chopping block.
The spearheads of the “Vote No” campaign, Reps. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) and Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg), who pushed to get the measure on the ballot believed the taxes where unfair. “Lawmakers taxed some people’s healthcare, but left wealthy corporations, unions, and insurance companies exempt from chipping in for Medicaid,” Parrish and Hayden wrote in an op-ed for The Statesman Journal.
“Vote No” not only faced institutional opposition from state Democrats and fellow Republicans, but it was up against heavy financial opposition as well.
Calculations done by Ballotpedia found that the two major committees advocating for “Vote Yes” raised a combined total of $2.8 million and spent $2.44 million.
The donations they received came mostly from various members of the health care industry. On the other hand, Ballotpedia published that the two major “Vote No” committees were only able to raise $352,829 and spent $345,147. Most of these contributions were donated personally by Rep. Hayden.
Following the results on Tuesday night, Parrish was the only one of the three spearheads to make a statement. Parrish, in response to a tweet that said her effort “was an attack on rural Americans,” tweeted back: “Yet more than half of Oregon counties said no. All that says is when you spend nearly 40 to 1 you can swing an election.” Parrish later also tweeted, “Special interests spend 40 to 1; lawmakers write ballot title & move election date to drive low voter turnout, the lowest in vote-by-mail history; and citizens don’t have time to learn the issue. . . tonight’s outcome isn’t surprising. But our goal was to let voters vote!” Parrish also vowed to keep up the fight by saying that she’ll continue “telling voters the truth about what’s happening in our healthcare system.”
The passage of Measure 101 does not end the fight over Medicaid. As of now, these new taxes are only laid out in the state’s budget until 2019. It remains to be seen if these new taxes will result in higher medical costs for the average tax payer.