By Charles Gallia, State Senate candidate, SD 20
When the Oregonian made a “tough call” to oppose Measure 101 (12/16/2017), they were indifferent to the harm and chaos taking such a stand could create.
The objections they raised to it are minor and could be responsibly dealt with in a regular legislative session. They fail to appreciate that the legislature did its job. They advocate a broad tax increase for everyone out of general funds. That’s revenue that did not exist in the earlier session, does not exist now, and won’t magically appear in the next 30 days.
The ballot title states what it will do: Approves temporary assessments to fund health care for low-income individuals and families, and to stabilize health insurance premiums.
A handful of Republicans objected to this and are attempting to play politics with the health care of nearly half of Oregon’s children and that of low-income, medically needy seniors who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare; in other words, the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
A super majority, three-fifths of the legislature from both sides of the aisle, including Oregon Senate Minority Leader Republican Ted Ferrioli, agreed to and approved of this solution. He’s even written a voters pamphlet statement in favor of Measure 101.
The measure was drafted with the cooperation and backing of professionals involved in patient care, such as hospitals, firefighters, teachers, doctors, nurses, home health care workers, and patient advocates from across the state.
A “yes” vote for Measure 101 benefits everyone’s health insurance cost. Insurance companies base their rates on the risk of projected costs. A “no” vote creates market uncertainty and health insurance companies will respond, as they have in the past, by raising the cost of premiums.
Uncompensated care, for example the cost to hospitals of providing emergency room care for the uninsured, is spread across all payers. The funding creates a high risk pool called reinsurance, that is used when there are extremely high unforeseen medical costs. A “no” vote on Measure 101 creates a downward spiral.
It is not speculation. This very thing has happened here in Oregon when we dropped coverage for nearly 100,000 working poor from the Oregon Health Plan in 2004. Within about 18 months those costs began to show in everyone’s insurance premiums. I can also tell you about treatment programs closing around the state, about the people I spoke with who weren’t able to get counseling or medication for mental health care, who had to choose between food and gas to get to work and getting basic preventative care. Now it’s over 300,000 working poor at risk.
If M101 doesn’t pass, the state still must go out and purchase coverage for those who continue to qualify, like everyone else does, but at increased costs, which comes out of the state’s budget.
Everyone’s health insurance premiums, whether through an employer, a school district, or on the individual market, will rise and be vastly greater than the 1.5 percent assessment.
Rural hospitals are at risk too. Critical access hospitals, which operate at the margins, have been able to keep their doors open because there are fewer uninsured people in Oregon seeking care. If Measure 101 doesn’t pass, this will change. It’s like coverage for uninsured motorists. The modest assessment covers those who otherwise wouldn’t have health care access.
Few people realize that the federal government pays most of the additional amount in Oregon. They cover 94 percent of the cost of those covered through on ACA/Obamacare. Nearly $5 billion in federal revenue is brought to the state if 101 passes.
The $550 million raised between the insurance companies and hospitals in the state means Oregon would draw down nearly 10 times that much from Washington. It would stay in the local health care system, keeping the overall costs lower for everyone. Oregon has been successful in making sure everyone has health coverage.
Remember, we had a huge budget gap. The education, transportation, and judicial parts of the state budget did not have to be cut because of this funding.
If Measure 101 were to fail on January 23rd, that would be the focus of the upcoming session. The state would once again face a potential shortfall of $840 million to $1.3 billion, and the above-mentioned services would be facing cuts. There would be three choices, drop at least 300,000 citizens from coverage, cut other parts of the state budget, create a new tax.
If the solutions the Oregonian alluded to are sound, the responsible thing to do would be to say “yes” to 101, bring them before the legislature, and put them to a vote. The ideas will still be needed for the next biennium’s budget because, even passing 101, the state’s next budget will likely be in the same situation. It is not a permanent fix. I’d like to give these ideas a well-thought-out review. But please, not while holding Oregon’s most vulnerable and the rest of us hostage.
Voting against 101 puts the state’s entire budget in jeopardy. It means funding for things like schools, police, parks, and environmental quality will once again be in doubt. The Clean Energy Jobs legislation will take a back seat.
It’s certainly true that we need a more sustainable way to finance health care, have greater state transparency and accountability, and improve how it is delivered. It’s one of the reasons I’m running for office, to heal this ailing, fragmented system. But breaking bones isn’t needed to get there; that is just bad medicine.
Join me in doing the right thing, vote “yes” on 101, and ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to do the same.