In a matter of days, Oregonians will mail in their ballot to decide the fate of $320 million in new health care taxes, meant to fund the state’s Medicaid program. Last year, the Legislature passed a major health care bill that included a 1.5 percent tax on health care premiums as well as a 0.7 percent tax on hospital revenue. These taxes are widely unpopular and gathered tens of thousands of signatures to force a statewide vote, giving the people the deciding vote to keep or scrap these taxes.
Measure 101 will have serious implications, not just for taxpayers, but all who use health care in Oregon. In fact, the 1.5 percent tax on premiums is expected to impact over 1.2 million Oregonians and raise $300 million on a biennial basis. This tax will be felt by small businesses, school districts, college students, and non profits. The high cost of health care in Oregon is already too high for many and this law would only exacerbate the problem rather than bringing down the cost of care.
In addition to taxes on individuals, hospitals will be forced to shell out more money to the state through a 0.7 percent tax. Less revenue means less investment in essential services, new equipment and a smaller budget for doctors and nurses. As is the case for most taxes, this tax will be passed onto the consumers through the form of higher costs and reduced quality of care. Additionally, trips to the emergency room, childbirth, and surgeries are all at risk of being hit with this new tax on hospital services. As a result, low and middle-class patients seeking care will be whacked with higher deductibles and premiums.
Economists have noted that the taxes in this law will raise the Silver Affordable Care Act plan by about $625 in 2019.
Voters should send a signal to Salem by rejecting these taxes and force lawmakers to reform the loose health care spending by the state.
A recent audit found the state was paying $280 million per year to cover 55,000 Medicaid beneficiaries that didn’t qualify or respond to an eligibility check. Further, the state overpaid healthcare organizations $78 million over the last three years in an effort to expand Medicaid coverage to residents. Perhaps, the most concerning use of taxpayer dollars was the $300 million wasted on the Cover Oregon website which failed to sign up a single person for health insurance.
There is a way for the state to cover more people at a cheaper cost, but raising taxes on users of health care is not the right approach. Lawmakers must go back to the table and find a more efficient solution to the this serious problem -- or else middle-class taxpayers will once again be stuck with the bill.