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Attempt To Repeal Oregon Hospital Tax Appears To Partially Miss Its Target

<p>Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is spearheading the proposed referendum to repeal the taxes on health care providers.</p>

Jonathan J. Cooper

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Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is spearheading the proposed referendum to repeal the taxes on health care providers.

Three Republican lawmakers thought they were sponsoring a proposed ballot referendum that would eliminate $333 million in new taxes on Oregon's health-care industry.

But the Legislature's top attorney said in an opinion Friday that the bill didn't include all the sections necessary to get rid of a tax on some hospitals.

The bottom line: The referendum appears to fall $111 million short of its intended goal. 

The taxes and assessments on hospitals, insurers and managed care providers are part of a bill providing about $600 million to help pay the Oregon's share of the federal Medicaid program.

About a fourth of all Oregonians are now covered by Medicaid, many as a result of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by former President Barack Obama.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is spearheading the proposed referendum to repeal the taxes on health care providers. She disagreed with Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson's assessment that her plan misses $111 million.

"We don't believe that," she said. "The only place you're going to determine that is in a courtroom. We would litigate that."

Patty Wentz, who is working with a coalition to protect the taxes passed by the Legislature, said the the package does not do what Republicans say it does. 

"It's different from what they're telling voters and their donors," Wentz said.

She added that "you have to be really careful" when you're working with health care policy.

Parrish and the other two co-sponsors of the measure — GOP Reps. Sal Esquivel of Medford and Cedric Hayden of Roseburg — need to gather about 59,000 signatures by Oct. 5 to put the measure on the ballot. If they succeed, a special election will be held Jan. 23.

The Republican lawmakers say the Legislature went too far in raising health care taxes and that there are cheaper ways to protect Medicaid funding.

Opponents dispute that, saying each of the new tax dollars will generate about $3 in federal money. They say the taxes play an important role in ensuring there is enough money to provide services to Medicaid patients.

Johnson, the legislative counsel, said in his opinion that "a very strong case could be made" that GOP referendum would only have the effect of delaying the 0.7 percent hospital tax from Oct. 6 until Jan. 1. 

The problem, he said, is that opponents failed to seek repeal of all of the sections of the bill covering that hospital tax.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.