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Yanez: What Oregon voters need to consider about Measure 101



How would you feel about a sales tax being imposed on already expensive health insurance? Depending on where you heard about Measure 101, this might be news to you, but that’s exactly what Oregonians will be voting on Jan. 23. According to Edward Johnson, a former canvasser who helped Measure 101 get on the ballot, most of the people he encountered “had never heard of the new tax and many didn’t believe [him] until [he] pulled up a news article on [his] phone.” Though there has been some reporting about the positives of the measure, voters need to consider a few things before making a decision.

Measure 101 was originally intended to be on the November ballot next year. However, supporters in Oregon’s government moved it up to January for a special election. While there isn’t much information about why this happened, one might assert that it’s because fewer people vote in special elections. If this is true, we need address the fact that it looks like our state government is trying to subdue the voters to advance its own agenda.

What’s Included in the Bill?

Originally, Measure 101 was known as Referendum 301 when it was a petition. The original bill that was passed and signed into law by the governor was Oregon House Bill 2391. Specifically, Measure 101 is to accept or reject sections 3, 5, 8, 9, and 27. If you read these sections, you get an idea as to why such a blue state overwhelmingly signed the petition to put it to a vote.

Section 3 states that the Public Employees’ Benefit Board (PEBB), where state employeesincluding UO faculty and staffget their health benefits from, will be taxed by 1.5 percent. Stop Healthcare Taxes, the primary organization in opposition of the measure, has stated that this could be seen as an excuse to raise college tuition. This, of course, depends on how public schools decide to handle the tax.

Section 5 states insurance companies are to pay a 1.5 percent tax on insurance premiums. Most people support fair taxation, but supporters of Measure 101 often fail to mention Section 8, which reads, “…insurers may increase their premium rate on policies or certificates…by 1.5 percent.” An Oregon lawmaker, a Measure 101 supporter, slammed The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest newspaper, stating it was “very important” for public college students to pay for this tax through hikes in school-provided health insurance (PacificSource):

Vote NO on 101 – Don't Tax College Student Health Plans

A SALES TAX on college student health plans? Tuition at Oregon universities went up nearly double-digits, and students are drowning in debt! But tax-addicted lawmakers will try to tax anyone who can't afford a fancy lobbyist.Watch this video and hear one Oregon lawmaker try to explain why almost 12,000 college students should be forced to pay for a healthcare sales tax to fund our failing Medicaid program. NOT big corporations. NOT unions. NOT insurance companies….college students. Hear him call it a tax, not an assessment.His nurses' union, which supports the new sales tax on college student health plans, has spent almost $90,000 in campaign CA$H to elect this guy. And this lawmaker has accepted nearly $40,000 in PAC contributions from Medicaid Profiteers.Because of course, as you'll hear him describe, taxing 12,000 broke college students nearly a MILLION DOLLARS is the best way to fund the Oregon Health Plan!Please share this video….and Vote #NoOn101!

Posted by Stop Healthcare Taxes on Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why Was HB 2391 Passed in the First Place?

The Oregon Health Authority was under audit by the Secretary of State because it was caught violating federal eligibility rules for Medicaid. That is, the Oregon Health Authority did not verify that 37,000 Oregonians actually qualified for Medicaid, paying nearly $200 million in Medicaid benefits for these people.

Supporters of this tax use scare tactics by saying that you’re going to take healthcare away from 350,000 Oregonians. This isn’t true because voting no repeals only $330 million of the $550 million tax. This ensures many, if not all, would get to keep their healthcare. Nobody is ignoring the fact that the state needs some extra tax revenue. According to Edward, and many who signed the petition, “the revenue must be raised but there are so many other ways to do it.”

Last year, Governor Kate Brown tried to use the mental hospital in Junction City as a political pawn after Measure 97, another sales tax that was projected to raise average individual expenses by $600 per year, was rejected. Unsurprisingly, the governor as well as several unions and special interest groups hope to use the same scare tactics by proposing to shut down the mental hospital in Junction City, a tactic the governor has a clear history of using.

The Oregon Supreme Court Was Involved

When the ballot title and summary were first drafted by the Joint Interim Committee on Referendum 301, State Representatives Julie Parrish (R – West Linn) and Cedric Hayden (R – Fall Creek) appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court due to its misleading and confusing nature. According to The Oregonian, the Oregon Supreme Court told State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum that “the language did not make the implications of voting yes or no clear enough.”

The Oregon Supreme Court also stated that “it must also be clear to voters that insurance companies can raise premiums by 1.5 percent, to recoup the cost of the tax that would fund the state reinsurance program.” It’s worrisome to me that our state government needs to be told not to mislead people in an election.

We Can Do Better

Edward shared some of his experiences with me about working on the petition. “While working as a canvasser for the campaign, I quickly learned that the innate opposition to taxing health insurance premiums was not a partisan issue; It seems there is a basic understanding across parties that raising health insurance premiums through taxation is an immoral action.”

We need to consider that the state threw $300 million a few years back into the failed Medicaid project, Cover Oregon. We need to seriously consider the latest scandal with the Oregon Health Authority overpaying more than $74 million and how its previous leader didn’t tell the governor about it. In light of all of these major issues, should we be giving the legislature more money without consequence?

I don’t believe we should allow our state government to abuse us, treating Medicaid recipients and the mentally ill as mere political pawns. Even Edward, stated that “the idea that a Democratic legislature and Governor would intentionally raise insurance rates felt like a betrayal.” Anybody in an abusive relationship, with manipulative behaviors like the governor has exhibited, would be advised to get out of it. Oregon desperately needs out of this relationship, starting by voting no on Measure 101.

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Ted Yanez

Ted Yanez

Ted is an opinion columnist for the Daily Emerald. An Oregon native, he loves to write about economics, politics, and whatever else comes to mind.