By now, most Oregon voters have received a ballot in the mail, containing just one item. Measure 101 comes as a result of the passage of HB 2391 in the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 2017, which dealt with many aspects of healthcare funding.
Measure 101, brought to a vote through a citizen-led referendum, seeks to overturn several provisions of that 2017 legislation.
A brief history: In 2003, the Oregon legislature created a hospital assessment (tax) as a revenue source to fund the Oregon Health Plan and other health initiatives. The assessment was set to expire in 2019, and was part of the impetus behind HB 2391. Through the passage of that legislation, that assessment has been extended to 2021. The 2017 legislation went beyond that though, setting forth various revenue-raising provisions to help provide funding for Medicaid programs in Oregon—providing health insurance to an estimated 350,000 low income adults, children and individuals with disabilities, as well as other medical assistance and services administered through the Oregon Health Authority, and provisions setting up the Oregon Reinsurance Program aimed at stabilizing the insurance marketplace. Because the legislation provided for raising revenue, it required a super majority for passage—three-fifths in both the state House and Senate. The bill received this majority, with bipartisan support in each chamber.
Now, Measure 101 asks voters to approve the parts of HB 2391 that involve raising revenue—in other words, the parts that involve taxes.
Measure 101 seeks to have voters approve the following provisions: 1) A tax of 1.5 percent on the gross premium equivalents received by the Public Employees' Benefit Board, during a calendar quarter for the two-year duration of the legislation; 2) A tax of 1.5 percent on the gross premiums earned by an insurer during a calendar quarter for the two-year duration of the legislation; 3) A tax of 1.5 percent on the gross amount of premium equivalents received by a managed care organization, during a calendar quarter for the two year duration of the legislation; and 4) An additional assessment of 0.7 percent on the net revenue of all non-waivered hospitals in Oregon. Measure 101 also would allow insurers subject to the legislation to increase premiums by up to 1.5 percent—the amount of the assessment charged.
What Voting "Yes" Does
A "yes" vote on Measure 101 will allow the provisions approved by the legislature to move forward, thereby allowing for continuing coverage for low-income Oregonians.
A "no" vote will result in eliminating the assessments to PEBB, insurance companies and managed care organizations. A "no" vote would also result in a delay in collection of the additional hospital assessment provided in the original legislation.
One of the objectives of HB 2391 was to maximize potential federal matching dollars for Oregon's Medicaid program. The Legislative Fiscal Office projects increased revenue received from the original legislation at an estimated $653 million in the 2017-2019 biennium, with the projected federal match estimated at $1,886 million. There would be the loss of all or a significant part of these sums with a "no" vote on Ballot Measure 101, putting at risk health insurance coverage for those 350,000 Oregonians. Essentially, a "no" vote forces the Legislature to go back to the drawing board in the upcoming legislative session.
Why the Special Election?
As a general rule, ballot measures are placed on the ballot during regularly scheduled elections—meaning primaries or the general election. In this instance, because there was loud opposition to HB 2391 during the 2017 legislative session, officials determined that if a challenge were to arise, it should be dealt with sooner than later.
Thus, an amendment was made to a Senate bill, SB 229, which required that if HB 2391 was to be subject to a ballot initiative, that it would be scheduled for a special election, specifically January 23, 2018. The thought was that if any or all of the bill was to be overturned through the initiative process, that the Legislature would then have an opportunity to address it during the 2018 session, even though it's a "short session." Effectively, this was a legislative insurance policy.
It's too late to register to vote for this special election, but if you're already registered, be sure and cast that ballot—due at the County Clerk's office by no later than 8 pm, January 23.
Judy Stiegler is an attorney, a former Oregon state representative and teaches political science at Central Oregon Community College.