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The plan to fund health insurance coverage for low-income residents passes in Washington County and rest of the state.

(Image is Clickable Link) SOURCE: OREGON SECRETARY OF STATEOregon voters appear to have approved a slate of health care taxes to help fund Medicaid in a referendum vote Tuesday.

Unofficial results as of Wednesday morning show 61.7 percent of Oregonians voted "yes" to keep a set of taxes on health insurance premiums, hospitals and managed care organizations. About 38.3 percent voted "no."

The measure did slightly better in Washington County, with 63.5 percent "yes" votes as of Wednesday morning.

The result lifts significant financial pressure off state lawmakers as they prepare to enter the short legislative session that begins Feb. 5 and must end by March 11.

Rejection of the package would have meant a $210 million to $320 million loss in state revenues, plus additional matching funds from the federal government, that were anticipated to help the state pay for Medicaid.

About 960,000 Oregonians are on Medicaid via the Oregon Health Plan.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, is both a lawmaker and a practicing physician. She said the high percentage of "yes" votes — on a highly complicated issue — means Oregonians, "understand that Medicaid is essential for the well-being of every Oregonian, even if that's not how you get your health care."

Steiner Hayward chairs the budget-writing subcommittee that would have been tasked with weaving back together a tattered state budget for the second half of the biennium, had the measure failed. "This win means we can get back to doing what we need to do, without reinventing the wheel," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, whose district includes Tigard, said she was pleased by Tuesday's results. "In the Legislature last session, we came up with a solution to provide funding that will allow 350,000 vulnerable Oregonians to keep their access to health care," Burdick said in a Tuesday evening press release. "After consulting stakeholders and coming to a bipartisan solution, we felt good about the result. We feel even better that Oregon's voters have shown their support for that solution."

But State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn disagrees. With fellow Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, Parrish led the campaign to get the taxes on the ballot. She maintains that she and Hayden were trying to "blow the whistle" on what she feels is an unfair system of paying for public health care.

"The real story is, like, 11 months from now, when the budget is in a crisis, because the Legislature didn't get the Medicaid budget funded correctly," Parrish said.

The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which operates nearly a dozen medical and dental clinics in Washington and Yamhill counties, supported Measure 101. The clinics provide services to low-income Oregonians, many of whom are recent immigrants. An estimated 9,000 patients stood to lose insurance, had Measure 101 failed.

"Virginia Garcia was proud to be part of a strong coalition of 175 organizations representing hundreds and thousands of Oregonians united in the belief that everyone deserves health care," said Kasi Woidyla, spokeswoman for Virginia Garcia, on Tuesday. "Last night, Oregonians supported health care for our most vulnerable people when it mattered most, and we will continue to fight against any and all attacks on quality affordable health."

Portland Community College also backed the measure, in part because community colleges serve a large percentage of low-income residents, but also to avoid a budget fiasco in the February legislative session. "The Legislature won't be burdened with the obligation to find a Plan B," said Denise Frisbee, chairwoman of the PCC Board of Directors. "This lets the state assist people in dire need of it."

The campaign pitted public unions and health care groups against the two Republican lawmakers who led the campaign against the measure. The Yes For Healthcare campaign raised about $3 million more than the "no" side, according to campaign finance records.

The "Yes" campaign was quick to celebrate the effort after preliminary results were posted by the Secretary of State's office shortly after 8 p.m. In a statement, Andy Davidson, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said the state's hospitals were "deeply gratified" by the results.

"Tonight's vote is an affirmation of our belief that Oregon is better off with a robust Medicaid program for our most vulnerable citizens," Davidson said in a statement.

As of Wednesday, turnout for the special elections stood at about 39.5 percent of eligible voters, according to the secretary of state's office.

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