Measure 101 will be the subject of a special election on January 23rd. A “Yes” vote will preserve a 1.5% provider and health care insurance premium tax passed by the legislature during the 2017 session. A “No” vote will repeal the tax. At stake is between $222 and $333 million of state funding that is directed toward the state’s Medicaid program – also known as the Oregon Health Plan – which funds health services for low income Oregonians. Please be aware that about $145 million of this is a direct tax on health insurance premiums paid by businesses with commercial health insurance plans for their employees. As of today, nearly 25% of all Oregonians are now on the Oregon Health Plan as Oregon’s uninsured rate has plummeted under the Medicaid expansion authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act.
You can expect your local hospitals and physicians groups to be in strong support of Measure 101. Preserving the 1.5% tax on providers and health insurance premiums keeps funding intact for the Oregon Health Plan. Proponents claim that as many as 350,000 low income Oregonians risk losing their health insurance if the tax is not preserved. In addition, keeping the tax intact will reduce uncompensated care and therefore reduce the costs that are shifted onto commercial and private ratepayers. Finally, proponents argue that eliminating the 1.5% provider and premium taxes will simply force the legislature to find $300 million elsewhere – perhaps in the form of other, less acceptable taxes on individuals and businesses.
Opponents of Measure 101 will come from small business owners and people with individual health insurance policies who don’t appreciate a 1.5% tax ($145 million) on their already expensive insurance premiums. They observe the mismanagement of the Oregon Health Plan – including over 55,000 ineligible recipients being allowed to collect benefits and more recently, that the state overpaid $74 million for Medicaid services – and oppose higher taxes to fund a health care program that lacks integrity. Opponents argue that there is more than enough money in state government to account for the $222 – $333 million without requiring small employers to pay $145 million in additional taxes to keep the Medicaid program whole. They also argue that taxing something (health care/health insurance) does not make it more affordable.