By Matthew Taylor
On Tuesday the 22nd, voters across Oregon overwhelmingly approved a measure that will raise hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for the state’s Medicaid program, ensuring the program’s survival for the time being. The bill, named Measure 101, passed in a special election with 62 percent of the vote. It was the only issue present on the ballot.
According to a report by the Oregonian, the measure will “raise $210 million to $320 million in taxes on Oregon’s largest hospitals and many health insurance policies by 2019… Large hospitals will pay a 0.7 percent tax,” while “insurance companies will pay a 1.5 percent tax on most policies, which they are allowed to pass along to consumers.”
The money raised will fund the state’s Medicaid program until 2019, when the provisions will expire.
This marked a major victory for Oregon’s Democrats, who originally passed the bill in the legislature in late July. However, shortly after the bill was signed into law, state Republicans passed a veto petition, bringing the issue to a popular vote.
In addition to providing funding to the state’s health care system, the measure’s passage will allow Democratic legislators to focus on other major policy changes for the upcoming six-week session. Likely the biggest priority for the Democratic party during the short session is a carbon “cap and invest” bill. With the Medicaid program funded through 2019, the legislators can put significantly more time and energy into making this carbon policy proposal and other laws.
Despite the clear significance of this victory for Democrats, the measure has come under heavy criticism from across the political spectrum. Critics of the bill point out that not only will the state have to revisit the issue in less than two years, but the taxes as applied are deeply inequitable.
According to the Oregonian Editorial Board, the taxes “apply to those Oregonians who have the misfortune of buying their own health insurance through the marketplace, including self-employed individuals, small businesses and even thousands of college students who are required to buy coverage through their school if they lack their own plans.” Those who are exempt from the taxes include “hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who get their health coverage through self-insured employers like Nike and Intel.”
This all comes as the debate over the future of healthcare throughout the U.S. continues to heat up. Many who support increased government involvement in the healthcare industry see this vote as an encouraging sign. It has become clear that, especially in predominantly liberal regions, the Medicaid expansions passed under the Affordable Care Act remain highly popular. As Democrats in Washington D.C. attempt to build on recent victories in protecting healthcare, statewide votes such as this one will continue to hold extreme importance.