Measure 101 approval protects students’ health, school districts’ budgets
Measure 101’s outcome will affect both the health care of many Oregon students and school districts’ budgets.
A yes vote would keep everything as it is. A no vote would carve a huge hole in Oregon’s budget for 2017-19 that could potentially be filled with school funds.
The Jan. 23 election is a referendum on portions of House Bill 2391, which levies a temporary tax on hospitals, health care organizations and insurers. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated the assessments would add $673 million to Oregon revenues and $1.9 billion in federal matching funds.
If Measure 101 fails, some of the assessments would be stopped. The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office estimates the state would lose $210 million to $320 million in revenue, endangering $630 million to $960 million in federal matching funds.
The extra money pays for an expansion of the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid system. About 350,000 Oregonians were added, mostly low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. The Legislature spent much of the 2017 session struggling for a way to close Oregon’s budget gap and pay for state services.
“This is the only viable option,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland/Beaverton. Steiner Hayward helped draft HB 2391 and is co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee on Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee. “There is no Plan B.”
If the measure fails, the Legislature will have to re-balance the budget with some combination of three choices:
- Remove people from the Oregon Health Plan.
- Raise taxes some other way.
- Take money from other state spending.
Steiner Hayward said that dealing with the measure’s failure would swallow the 2018 short legislative session and the likely result would be that hundreds of thousands of people would be cut from the Oregon Health Plan.
More than 160 organizations have endorsed a yes on Measure 101 to keep things as is, including OSBA, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Parent Teacher Association, Stand for Children, the Oregon Education Association and a wide variety of health care providers.
Education advocates emphasize that students are better able to succeed in school when their health needs are being met.
“It’s pretty clear that if the measure doesn’t pass, the insurance coverage for our most vulnerable students is going to be at risk,” said Morgan Allen, COSA’s deputy executive director of policy and advocacy.
Opponents of Measure 101 say that they do not oppose Medicaid expansion but that the assessments are the wrong way to pay for it. Measure 101 opponents have said the assessments are unfair and the money can be found elsewhere.
Education advocates worry that is true. If the loss of income is spread proportionally across state budgets, school districts could lose as much as $125 million, according to Allen. The State School Fund is the state’s largest general fund expenditure, making it a target for an even larger bite.
“A no vote means potential cuts to school districts in the second half of the biennium, which makes it very difficult when you already have tight budgets,” said OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel.
Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, helped lead the challenge to the health care assessments. She said that based on data from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, the assessments will raise school districts’ premiums $25 million.
Districts won’t pay all that cost, though, said Angie Peterman, executive director of the Oregon Association of School Business Officials. She agrees with Parrish that insurance companies will likely pass the costs on rather than absorb them, but employees will pick up some of the higher premiums in many districts.
The Department of Consumer and Business Services estimates that the average increase per month for employers with fewer than 50 workers will be $5 per employee. The department can’t estimate larger employers because they negotiate their own deals separately.
Beaverton School District, which self-insures, has concluded that if the measure fails and budget cuts are spread proportionally, the measure’s failure would cost it more than 15 times as much as the assessments. The Beaverton School Board voted to support the measure.
“We are concerned that our students receive the health benefits they need to come to school healthy and ready to learn,” said LeeAnn Larsen, Beaverton School Board member and OSBA Board of Directors president. She added that Beaverton has already prepared its budget for this biennium and that cuts related to the measure’s failure would be difficult to absorb this far into the cycle.
“We need to have the voters pass Measure 101 for the sake of our children and their futures,” she said.
Ballots must be received by mail or drop box by 8 p.m. Jan. 23. The secretary of state’s office recommends using a drop box after Jan. 17.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA