On January 23 Oregonians should deliver a resounding “yes” on Measure 101, which asks voters to support a modest fee of 0.7 percent fee on insurance companies and 1.5 percent on hospitals.  The revenue generated provides the state with funds necessary to leverage billions of federal Medicaid dollars and thereby secure insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians.     

During the last legislative session, most Democrats and Republicans understood that Oregon needs to take action to ensure access to medical care for all residents.  That is why a strong bipartisan majority voted for this tax, which is supported by over 160 organizations across the state including the AARP, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Kaiser Permanente, Providence Health, the Oregon Medical Association, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the Oregon School Boards Association, the Oregon Educational Association, and virtually all the state’s major trade unions and civil rights groups.

A joint statement by Peter Courtney, the leader of the State Senate’s Democratic majority, and his Republican counterpart at the time, Ted Ferrioli, exemplified the bipartisan nature of the bill.  They declared that the measure “protects health care coverage for the hundreds of thousands of kids, families, seniors, and people with disabilities on the Oregon Health Plan. It [also] stabilizes insurance markets, saving working families an average of $300 per year on their insurance premiums.”

Although a strong majority of legislators voted in favor of the new fees, a small number of Republicans, led by Julie Parrish, forced the matter to a public vote because they claim the Medicaid program “needs fixing.”  They argue that the state wastes too much money and the Oregon Health Plan needs to reduce fraud.  While it may be true that the state, like all large institutions (including private ones), needs to be alert to these problems and energetically combat them, the opponents of Measure 101 are using these charges as a red herring.  Their real aim is to undercut the extension of the Oregon Health Plan’s coverage, which the Affordable Care Act made possible through the expansion of the federal Medicaid program.    

Opponents of the measure claim that tax will drive up health insurance premiums, but the opposite is true.  Without passage, the loss of federal funds could result in cutting hundreds of thousands of Oregonians from the Oregon Health Plan and once again force them to rely on the hospital emergency room, the most expensive and wasteful option and one which helps to drive medical costs sky high.  Indeed the measure specifically limits insurance companies from raising their rates more than 1.5 percent as a result of the new assessments and, by stabilizing the state Reinsurance Program, it lowers premiums for people who buy their own insurance by 6% (on average about $300 per year).  Failure to pass the measure would result in higher rates for about 210,000 Oregonians.     

Health care is a human right that should be secured through a publicly funded, single-payer insurance system.  Until that goal is achieved, however, we must use all the tools we have available, both private and public, to insure as many people as possible.  Measure 101 will help us do that.  It will secure access for the twenty-five percent of Oregonians, including 400,000 children, covered by Medicaid.  It will make real the idea that we live in a community that cares about all its members.  That is why it is essential to vote yes.