Conservative business groups mount attack, claiming tax would raise health insurance premiums
June 5, 2009 -- Oregon lawmakers face a crucial vote on Monday morning (June 8). That’s when the battle to reform Oregon’s healthcare system takes center stage.
Two measures – known as House Bill 2009 and HB 2116 – would provide coverage to over 115,000 uninsured Oregonians, impose a provider tax on insurers and hospitals, reduce healthcare costs by $10 billion over the next decade and draw down $1 billion in federal matching funds.
With a commanding majority in the Oregon House – 36 seats – Democrats should easily sail to victory. But an undercurrent has risen up, led by a group of conservative business groups that are attempting to derail the 1 percent insurance tax – claiming it will lead to higher costs and, inevitably, leave more Oregonians uninsured.
The fight’s being waged by Associated Oregon Industries and the National Federation of Independent Business. Their lobbyists tried a similar ploy when House Bill 2116 was heard by the House Revenue Committee on May 28.
“It will result in fewer employers being able to afford health coverage,” said Jenna Kaluza, state director of NFIB. Her colleague, Betsy Earls, vice president and legislative representative for AOI, shared a similar perspective. “The tax is not sustainable.”
On the AOI’s Web site, the premium tax is called a “job killer.”
“Taxing a narrow group of businesses for a broad-based health care expansion is not equitable or sustainable in the long term,” the Web site reads. Once the tax is imposed, health insurance premiums will continue their upward spiral, and more people will lose coverage, according to AOI. “This brings us right back to where we started – except that fewer people have health insurance and health insurance costs more.”
If the tax passes the House, victory is assured in the Senate. AOI and NFIB could try referring the measure to the voters, but the odds wouldn’t be in their favor since they’d be fighting against providing coverage to 80,000 children.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), who authored the comprehensive reform bill, called their effort “stupid” because it works against the interests of their members. “The provider tax will reduce, not increase their health insurance premiums,” he said.
Right now 10 percent of every healthcare premium is spent on covering the uninsured. “This bill will significantly reduce the cost shift and consequently reduce the pressure to increase healthcare premiums,” Greenlick said.
The business community isn’t united in opposition to the tax, which has been endorsed by the Oregon Business Association.
Here’s what the comprehensive healthcare reform bill (House Bill 2009) would do:
- Create an all-payer all-claims data base to improve transparency
- Establish the Oregon Health Authority to contain costs, improve quality and expand access
- Replace the cumbersome claims and billing forms with one electronic form and encourage adoption of health information technology
- Encourage the use of best practices in medicine so that doctors and other healthcare providers are aware of the most effective therapies
- Work on the development of a public health plan option to be presented to the 2011 Oregon legislature
- Combine the state’s purchasing power by consolidating public employees, school teachers, local government employees and the high risk pool into a single agency
- Develop a healthcare exchange, which would also come before the 2011 legislature
- Give the Department of Consumer and Business Services authority to determine whether healthcare premium increases are justified by examining their financial record.
To accomplish its goals, Gov. Kulongoski will appoint a nine-member health policy board comprised of eight consumers and one physician known as the Oregon Health Authority.
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