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Failure of Measure 101 in January could make it tough for Oregon to backstop federal CHIP program.

Congress has yet to reauthorize the popular 1997 law known as the Child Health Care Insurance Program, or CHIP. Speaking in Washington County last week, Gov. Kate Brown said that, if Congress doesn't act, Oregon would use funds from Medicaid to supplement the program through April, with the goal of providing access to health care for all kids in Oregon. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward

But Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, last week said that promise might depend on the outcome of a Jan. 23 election.

Near the end of the 2017 session, lawmakers extended an existing tax on hospitals, which is used to fund health care for low-income Oregonians and which generates matching federal dollars. This year, facing a $1.4 billion shortfall, lawmakers expanded the existing tax — or a provider assessment, as proponents call it — to include some health insurance plans and managed care organizations, and also raised the hospital tax. The changes passed with bipartisan support.

But several Republicans who opposed the changes referred the Medicaid funding plan to voters. One of them was state Rep. Julie Parrish of West Linn. They got enough signatures to put the measure before voters in January.

A "yes" vote will maintain the revenue. A "no" vote will blow a hole in the budget, lawmakers say. Either that, or up to 350,000 Oregonians could lose health care coverage, according to supporters of the health care tax.

And that, in turn, could affect the governor's promise to backstop the funding for CHIP, Steiner Hayward said.

"If (Measure 101) fails, all bets are off," Steiner Hayward said, speaking to a legislative committee of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Dec. 7.

In fact, she said a "no" vote on Measure 101 means the entire 2018 legislative session — which starts in February — will be about fixing a new budget crisis.

"If it fails," she said of the January vote, "we'll have no choice ... but to cut 350,000 people from the Oregon Health Plan."

Steiner Hayward chaired a work group that came up with the provider assessment or tax. She said several other funding options were considered and rejected, including an increased tobacco tax.

"There is no Plan B," she said Thursday.

Congress created CHIP in 1997 with broad bipartisan support. The program covers nearly 9 million children throughout the nation whose parents earn too much for Medicaid but not enough to afford private coverage. It costs approximately $14 billion per year. The authorization for the program ran out in Sept. 30.

Some members of Congress have speculated that CHIP could be reauthorized through the end-of-the-year continuing resolution, a measure to keep the government funded.

Steiner Hayward — who co-chairs the Legislature's Ways and Means Subcommittee On Human Services — said she has heard that might happen ... and might not.

"I hear different stories in the morning and at night," she said. "The uncertainty is really stressful."

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