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Petitioners appeal provider tax ballot title

Three GOP lawmakers are challenging the health care financing scheme passed during the last session.

CAPITAL BUREAU - Three lawmakers have filed an appeal with the Oregon Supreme Court challenging the ballot title of a proposed referendum on the state's health care funding scheme.SALEM — A trio of Republican lawmakers who want to refer Oregon's Medicaid funding scheme to voters are challenging a description of the measure that voters could see on their ballots in January.

Medicaid is a health coverage program for people below certain income thresholds, funded by the federal government and the state. Oregon collects payments from health care providers — assessments often called a provider tax — to pay its share of the costs.

Three lawmakers want to challenge some of those payments, and they are at work gathering the nearly 59,000 signatures required to get the issue to the ballot in a special election Jan. 23.

Their deadline for the signatures is Thursday.

And now they are asking the Oregon Supreme Court to review the ballot title's caption, summary and its description of the results of "yes" and "no" votes on the potential referendum.

The language that the petitioners are challenging was approved by a legislative committee Sept. 20.

A copy of the appeal was provided to the EO Media Group / Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau by petitioner State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, Monday evening.

Parrish is joined by two other Republican state representatives — Cedric Hayden, of Roseburg, and Sal Esquivel, of Medford.

They are essentially arguing that the summary of the measure, and the description of what a "yes" and "no" vote mean, don't accurately convey the legislation's meaning or the consequences of a vote, and have proposed an alternative.

They argue that the word "assessment" could mislead voters, and that an assessment on net revenues "is a tax in every normative sense of the word," according to the appeal.

The petitioners argue that the legislation in question needed the three-fifths majority vote in both legislative chambers that is required to raise revenue in Oregon.

But "assessment" is the language written into the law. Legislative counsel has said that there are legal differences between the terms "assessment" and "tax."

The petitioners also say that the ballot title "inappropriately focuses on programs that may be funded by (the legislation) but were not direct subjects of (the referendum petition)."

The ballot title approved last month states that a "no" vote "underfunds budgeted costs for providing health care to low-income individuals and families and individuals with disabilities and for stabilizing premiums charged by insurance companies for health insurance purchased by individuals and families."

It also states that a "no vote" would delay a certain aspect of the law, rather than eliminate it as the referral petitioners want.

Petitioners intended to refer a .7 percent assessment on certain hospitals to the ballot.

But legislative attorneys have opined that aspect of the legislation would merely be delayed rather than nixed because of an omission in the referral petition. That's an interpretation that the petitioners challenge.

In a press release when the ballot title was approved in late September, the Coalition to Protect Healthcare — advocates who oppose referring the issue to voters and support the way the legislation in question collects money to pay for Medicaid — said that the ballot title "clearly lays out what will happen if the referendum passes or fails."

And some of those who supported the assessments on hospitals, insurers and CCOs, said in testimony that the ballot title didn't go far enough to convey what they say will be a dramatic reduction in benefits if voters reject portions of the law.

The Oregon Supreme Court has until Nov. 6 to resolve any challenges to the ballot title.