A policy analyst says voters in Oregon were fooled this week when they approved new taxes that are meant to address Medicaid expenses.
Oregon voters approved taxes on hospitals, health insurers, and managed care companies in an unusual special election Tuesday. Measure 101 asked citizens how to pay for Medicaid costs that now include coverage of hundreds of thousands of low-income residents – including illegal immigrants who were added to the program's rolls under the Affordable Care Act (aka, ObamaCare).
"I think it's sad that Oregonians bought the arguments that not adding these new taxes would throw hundreds of thousands of people off the healthcare rolls, which was not true," responds Steve Buckstein, senior policy analyst at the Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon's free-market think tank. "The Oregon Health Authority, which manages Medicaid tax money in the state, has mismanaged, misspent, wasted something like three or four times as much money in the last several years as this new measure is calling for."
The Institute tried to educate Oregonians not to give more tax money to an agency that Buckstein says was doing so poorly with what it was given. "But the voters bought the argument from those who benefit from the tax that we needed the additional tax money in the state," he adds.
Meanwhile, Buckstein doesn't expect the new voter-approved taxes will improve service and quality of care.
"The Oregon Health Plan, which is Oregon's version of Medicaid, tried to see what would happen if they instituted a small co-pay," he says. "I think it was like $5 or $10 – and so many people dropped the plan that they assumed that people couldn't afford $5 or $10. [But] what we thought the result showed was that people weren't willing to pay anything for something that was such poor service; but because it was free, they signed up for it."
With the executive and legislative branches of state government firmly in the hands of Democrats who favor Medicaid expansion, Buckstein laments there's not much that can be done.
"The majority of them passed these new taxes and it was put on the ballot for voters," he explains. "Our group is not political; we're a policy organization. So we will continue to try to educate lawmakers and citizens of the state of Oregon that government is a poor provider of healthcare."
But for now, he concludes, the state is going to be "wasting even more tax dollars to provide what in many cases is poor quality healthcare."