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A recent guest column in the Portland Tribune by COHO's executive director Phil Greenhill described this effort and the ensuing referendum as 'radicalized.' I prefer to call it truth-seeking.

COURTESY PHOTO - State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West LinnUpon adjourning the Legislature, lawmakers who opposed new health care sales taxes on insurance premiums and hospitals decided voters deserved the right to vote on a fundamental shift in how we raise taxes to pay for Medicaid.

The response from those supporting new taxes, including the public employee union front group Our Oregon, and Coalition for a Healthy Oregon (COHO), one of the state's largest Medicaid profiteering organizations, has been outlandish and downright dishonest.

To be clear, it would be impossible for a referendum that lets voters vote on $330 million of health care taxes to cause 350,000 people to lose health care (in an otherwise $3.6 billion budget line item for two years of Medicaid costs).

What the referendum will do is force a dialogue about mismanagement and profiteering in our Medicaid system, while protecting thousands of Oregonians who'd otherwise bear the brunt of an unnecessary tax increase.

In May, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson released a first-of- its-kind "audit alert" about a massive Medicaid eligibility backlog at the Oregon Health Authority, with the potential to cost Oregon's budget hundreds of millions of dollars in overpayments. The alert couldn't have been timelier, as the Legislature was developing the Medicaid budget.

With Cedric Hayden, a low-income dental practitioner and lawmaker from Cottage Grove, we concluded faulty OHA data was being used to craft the Medicaid bill. The bill also lacked accountability mechanisms to stop future mismanagement. We proposed an alternative to fully fund one year of Medicaid with a commitment to increase tobacco taxes if needed, once the Medicaid backlog was cleared up and Secretary Richardson's Medicaid audit was complete. This sensible alternative was rejected out of hand.

A recent guest column in the Portland Tribune by COHO's executive director Phil Greenhill described this effort and the ensuing referendum as "radicalized." I prefer to call it truth-seeking.

It's now been discovered that 56,000 people were improperly receiving Medicaid, reflecting $577 million in state and federal tax dollars we didn't need to raise. Who benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer overpayments? For-profit Medicaid organizations like the ones Greenhill represents. In fact, one COHO member had so much accumulated Medicaid money on the books, it sold the business for $130 million to an out-of-state corporation.

For-profit Medicaid providers also are some of the largest campaign contributors in Oregon. Since 2008, these Medicaid profiteers have donated some $4.4 million to political campaigns, most recently giving $60,000 to Gov. Kate Brown.

The governor said raising taxes on premiums of individuals, small employers, nonprofits and even our local schools was her top priority. In full transparency, these organizations previously have made contributions to my own campaign. However, my work to shine a light on Medicaid mismanagement has drawn their ire.

Greenhill and for-profit Medicaid providers opposed legislation to convert all CCOs to nonprofits, disallow campaign contributions from Medicaid providers and require Medicaid providers to cooperatively bid for pharmaceuticals to reduce drug costs. Those efforts were quashed by powerful lobbyists with big purse strings.

Voters from every legislative district and political party have signed the referendum petition. They see the disaster at OHA has resulted in wasted tax dollars and expensive lawsuits, culminating in the firing of the OHA director earlier this month. And they are sick of seeing their health care dollars being used on sweetheart deals for special interests.

As someone who grew up on Medicaid, voted to create CCOs, and passed bills to expand Medicaid health coverage, I believe people who truly need our help should have health coverage. But when the business model of Medicaid providers is predicated solely on our tax dollars, they deserve a much higher level of scrutiny than Greenhill and his ilk are loath to abide. They will fight reform with every dollar and scare tactic they can muster.

I made a commitment to stand up for my neighbors' best interests. A tax on health care that exempts large corporations, unions and insurance companies who can afford high-priced lobbyists like COHO will not make your health care more affordable. But it will keep lining the pockets of special interests that profit off the neediest citizens of our state.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn is a chief petitioner of Referendum 301, which would put the health care provider tax to a public vote. You can reach her at 503-432-9707 or visit www.stophealthcaretaxes.com/sign to learn more.

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