When considering the decision of whether or not to support Measure 101 during this week's special election, we'd like to point out a statement in a letter to the editor written by Michelle Ganow-Jones, who opposed The Oregonian's "no" endorsement:
"Another headline for this decision could have been, 'Vote to make the perfect the enemy of the good,'" Ganow-Jones wrote.
Having made the same argument about Measure 97 in November 2016, we couldn't agree more. Let's not get caught up again waiting for absolute perfection in the realm of politics. This bill will help the people who need health care the most in our state.
As a recap, Measure 101 helps to bridge the gap for Medicaid dollars, brought about by a shortfall in the state budget and cuts at the federal level. Filling that gap means 350,000 low-income Oregonians will likely be able to stay on the Oregon Health Plan, among other benefits. An objective of the original House bill was to maximize potential federal matching dollars for Medicaid in Oregon. HB 2391, approved by a super majority in both the state House and Senate last year, adds, for the next two years, a 1.5 percent "assessment" on premiums received by the Public Employees' Benefit Board, 1.5 percent on gross premiums earned by insurers and 1.5 percent on gross premiums earned by managed care organizations. Additionally, non-waivered hospitals in Oregon are assessed a 0.7 percent tax on net revenue. At the same time, the bill would allow insurers to increase premiums by up to 1.5 percent—which could translate into about $5 per month for the average person.
What you've just heard is that premiums for some people could go up. But also consider this: The taxes collected through a "yes" vote on Measure 101 also pay for the reinsurance program that allows insurance companies to be partially reimbursed for high-cost care, like cancer treatments. Because 2018 insurance rates have already been set, we already know that the reinsurance program has made insurance rates 6 percent lower for those buying it on the open market. In other words, there's an additional upfront cost in order to see savings. By supporting Measure 101, you allow this vital program to continue, and ultimately, to keep costs lower. It must also be noted here that numerous hospitals and health care companies are urging a "yes" vote on Measure 101, because they understand that having uninsured people covered for treatment through Medicaid payments is better than not having those people paid for at all.
Still, some will tell you that the tax is unfair, because it doesn't impose a tax on the people who are covered by employer health care plans. Sure, it would be great to impose a tax there too—but that's prohibited at the federal level. While "equity" is certainly a topic we care about, there's a bigger equity question afoot than the one pitting employer-based health care against those covered by small businesses, nonprofits, school districts or universities—and that's the equity issue that arises when we allow perfect to be the enemy of good, and to allow 350,000 Oregonians to lose care on account of the failure of Measure 101.
Sure, the Oregon Legislature could spend its upcoming short session working to bring forth a better package that somehow addresses that equity component, presently hamstrung by federal law. Or it could use that time to address the Public Employees Retirement System funding issue, the issue of fully funding the Quality Education Model, and heck, even deciding whether or not we'll ever be able, as walkers and cyclists, to cross the Deschutes River south of Bend on a pedestrian footbridge. Let the Legislature that so recently—and broadly—approved HB 2391 to fill this health care funding gap for those most in need, spend its time doing other important work.