At West Linn town hall meeting, residents vow to fight health care referendum
House Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) can expect some postcards at her office, courtesy of Our Oregon.
The nonprofit organization, which advocates for "economic and social fairness for all Oregonians," hosted a town hall meeting for dozens of attendees at the West Linn Adult Community Center Aug. 1 to discuss the state's health care system and Parrish's work on a referendum that Our Oregon claims could lead to a loss of coverage for 350,000 Oregonians. As the meeting came to a close, dozens of attendees from Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties signed postcards addressed to Parrish, urging her to reconsider her stance against the Oregon Healthcare Protections Bill (HB 2391) passed by the 2017 Oregon Legislature.
"A plan to repeal Oregon's health care without a viable plan to replace it is dangerous and it's reckless," said Rachel Prusak, a nurse practitioner and member of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) who helped lead the town hall meeting. "Oregon leaders have a choice: Kick hundreds of thousands of Oregonians like my patients off health care, or allow insurance companies and hospitals (who) supported HB 2391 to pay their fair share."
HB 2391 is described as a "provider tax" on health care which would generate an estimated $600 million over two years — along with $1.9 billion in federal funds — to help pay for Oregon's expanded Medicaid program (formally named the Oregon Health Plan). The bill allows for the continuation of a 5.3 percent tax on net revenues for urban hospitals, while also creating a 4 percent assessment on rural hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on insurers.
Parrish's referendum, which needs 59,000 signatures by Oct. 1 to proceed, would put HB 2391 to a public vote in a January special election. Parrish has criticized the bill as a "sales tax" on health care that would put more of a burden on those in the individual market as well as college students, small businesses and school districts, while excluding large corporations and unions. She also fears the tax would put more of a burden on Medicaid providers and potentially result in reduced payments to doctors and nurses.
Our Oregon representatives noted during the town hall that Parrish was invited to attend, but declined.
As part of a joint presentation with Prusak, Teri Mills — also a nurse and member of ONA — said it was important to consider who supported the bill, listing off a number of organizations like the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the Oregon Medical Association, Providence Health & Services, Kaiser Permanente and Moda Health.
"People who are going to be taxed agreed to be taxed," Mills said. "So I have a question for all of us to be thinking about: What is the problem, exactly?"
Mills and Prusak said the loss of Medicaid would be devastating for many of Oregon's most vulnerable residents, and invited attendees to share personal stories about health care.
"During the last recession, I lost my health insurance," said Chris Lowe, a Multnomah County resident. "I was uninsured for five or six years until the Medicaid expansion kicked in and I was able to get on the Oregon Health Plan."
Lowe added that before he became eligible for Medicaid, he faced the potential of "deferred care," which arises when people experience symptoms but put off a doctor's visit because of its out-of-pocket cost — thus potentially endangering their lives if an illness is not caught in time.
Another town hall attendee, Chris Heydemann, shared the story of his daughter, who was born deaf and with intrauterine growth restriction, and would later encounter other health complications.
"She's 21 now, and it is because of Medicaid that she now has care," Heydemann said. "They covered very little of her care until the Medicaid expansion of ACA (the Affordable Care Act). And if it weren't for us, she'd be homeless.
"That's who we're turning out, and that's who we're deciding, 'These people don't get health care.'"
Parrish has said that she herself was on Medicaid when she was growing up, and her opposition to HB 2391 was simply related to taxes she felt were unfair and unwise. In a prior interview with The Tidings, she said she worked with other legislators on an alternative plan that included a "nominal" cigarette tax as well as a new tax on vaping to help support the cost of Medicaid. That plan, Parrish said, was deprived of hearings and an opportunity to be scored by the Legislative Fiscal Office.
If one thing was certain, it was that the town hall attendees wouldn't be among the 59,000 signatures Parrish is looking to gather. As the meeting closed, people stayed behind to sign postcards and also left with a script for calling Parrish's office.
"We need to remind our elected officials that it's time to protect healthcare in Oregon," Prusak said.