WE DON'T DO THIS for the accolades, but holy shit should you be thankful that we sat through a debate over Measure 101 so you don’t have to.
As the President of the USA discovered, like, a week ago, health care is extremely complicated, and the folks pushing both sides of the debate over how Oregon should fund coverage for its poorest residents are doing nothing to solve that. State Rep. Cedric Hayden—one of Measure 101’s central opponents, a Roseburg Republican, and a dentist—sort of tried by bringing a hand-drawn chart to our endorsement interview. Your chart is garbage, Cedric. Everyone who touched it should wash their hands for an hour.
But as godawful as it is, Measure 101 is also extremely important. It will be the lone item on a ballot that will show up, unbidden and Jacob Marley-esque, at your front door any day now, and you should make absolutely sure you turn it in by the January 23 special election.
We think you should vote yes.
But first: Why are we voting on something in January? Because of sore feelings left over from the 2017 legislative session.
You’ll recall that state legislators were flummoxed in that session over a budget deficit of more than a billion dollars, a sizeable chunk of which came from health care. Basically, Oregon did the decent thing and (ham-handedly) expanded Medicaid coverage for poor citizens under the Affordable Care Act. But the federal government is no longer footing the bill for all of that, and we need to figure out how to cover the gap.
The strategy legislators landed on was to slap a 0.7 percent tax on large hospitals, and a 1.5 percent assessment on health insurance companies and other health care providers. Proponents expect these will raise $210 million to $320 million, enough to guarantee that more than 300,000 people who’ve benefited from Oregon’s health care expansion keep their insurance (and also help reduce premiums by giving health care providers more stability).
A cabal of Republican legislators is crying foul. Hayden, state Rep. Julie Parrish, and state Rep. Sal Esquivel were so incensed by the revenue package that they collected enough signatures to put it before voters.
A “Yes” on Measure 101 keeps the taxes in place. A “No” scraps them, with deeply uncertain outcomes for people covered by Medicaid.
Parrish is clearly passionate about this, even if much of her argument comes out as gobbledygook. She says the tax is unfair, and will fall on only a segment of consumers—including, potentially, teachers and college kids—in the form of higher premiums, while leaving others harmless. She also darkly intones that shadowy corporate interests are at play, out to enrich themselves at the public trough.
Hayden agrees, and also believes the tax will raise far beyond what’s needed to cover Oregon’s Medicaid recipients. When it does, he says, the legislature will swoop in and plunder the fund for other purposes (proponents say that’s impossible).
Most specious of all—and with little more than innuendo to back up their claim—Parrish and Hayden say not a single Oregonian would lose health care coverage if the taxes didn’t go into effect.
Proponents, who include social service providers, labor unions, hospital groups, and more than 100 other organizations, say Parrish and Hayden are wrong. They bring up the housing crisis that’s put more people on Portland’s streets and the opioid epidemic surging through the state, and say that rolling back Medicaid protections for hundreds of thousands of kids and working poor will take us in the wrong direction.
In the end, we’re forced to agree. So often in Oregon, revenue mechanisms for worthy aims are shot down for being imperfect. (Measure 97, anyone?) Well, this isn’t perfect. Parrish and Hayden are right that these two-year taxes fall on only a segment of the populace. And they’re right to point out we’ll be forced into a similar conversation in two years, when federal coverage of Oregon’s Medicaid program diminishes again.
But we simply can’t look at what’s happening outside of our Old Town office doors and in Washington DC and think that rolling back coverage on hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Oregonians is an acceptable option. And—other than saying they “believe” they can come up with a solution—Parrish and Hayden give us absolutely no confidence that legislators will be able to plug the massive budget hole that results from a “no” vote in the short legislative session that begins in February.
For these reasons, we say “yes” on Measure 101. You should, too.