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Voters overwhelmingly approve keeping certain taxes on health insurance premiums and hospitals.

(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.

Nearly 62 percent of voters approved keeping certain taxes on health insurance premiums, hospitals and managed care organizations, and about 38 percent voted to overturn them.

The measure did slightly better in Washington County and slightly worse than the statewide average in Clackamas County, with 63.5 and 58.1 percent "yes" votes respectively 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.

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.

The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which operates nearly a dozen medical and dental clinics in Washington and Yamhill counties, supported Measure 101. The health center, based in Cornelius, provides 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. "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."

The campaign pitted public unions and health care groups against a handful of Republican lawmakers who placed parts of the 2017 legislation on the ballot.

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., Tuesday.

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.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portand, praised voters. "Oregonians were loud and clear tonight: Health care is a right that we will protect," she said in a statement. "By passing Measure 101, Oregon voters affirmed that everyone has a right to access affordable health care — regardless of where they live or where they work. Thank you, Oregon voters, for keeping the state moving forward."

State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, is a family physician who chairs the budget-writing subcommittee that would have been tasked with reconciling the state's budget had the measure failed.

"This win means we can get back to doing what we need to do without reinventing the wheel," Steiner Hayward said.


Opponents focus on 'chronic failures'

State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn led the campaign to get the taxes on the ballot, calling it 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.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said in a statement that Tuesday's loss meant that legislators needed to address inefficiencies in the state's health care system.

In the past year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ousted and replaced top leadership at the Oregon Health Authority amid a publicity scandal, and the health agency has also dealt with problems determining patient eligibility and making accurate payments to providers.

"Our state's health care programs have suffered from chronic failures for years," McLane said. "This culture of incompetence cannot be excused or forgotten in the wake of this ballot measure."

Portland Community College had backed the measure, in part because community colleges serve a large percentage of low-income residents. Denise Frisbee, chairwoman of the PCC Board of Directors said the passage prevents a budget fiasco.

"The Legislature won't be burdened with the obligation to find a Plan B," she said. "This lets the state assist people in dire need of it."

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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