Oregon voters again rejected a tax increase that would have enabled the state to maintain access to health care services for the poor and near-poor through the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
More than a year ago, in January 2003, state residents voted against an increase in the state’s income tax that was designed to avoid cuts in health care services, education, public-safety measures, and other essential services.
As a result, the state eliminated access to outpatient mental health benefits and substance abuse treatment for approximately 100,000 residents and temporarily eliminated access to prescription drug coverage (Psychiatric News, April 4, 2003).
Later in 2003, Oregon’s state legislature passed an $800 million tax increase intended to balance the state’s 2003-05 budget. Measure 30, a voter referendum initiative, subjected the increase to a statewide vote.
Voters rejected the tax increase by 59 percent to 41 percent. In addition to a three-year income tax increase, the measure would have raised taxes on cigarettes, increased the minimum level of corporate taxes, and reduced the medical state tax deduction for seniors.
The legislature had spelled out $545 million in cuts that would take place if the tax increases were rejected. According to a statement on the Measure 30 ballot, about 52,000 persons will lose OHP coverage and other health care cuts will occur as a result of the defeat.
In the February 5 Oregonian, reporter David Austin described the cuts likely to occur in Multnomah County, which includes Portland.
He noted that as many as 25,000 people in the county will lose mental health services, including housing and financial help to pay for medication.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) targeted health coverage for children and pregnant women, prescription drug coverage for seniors, and state crime labs as services he would try to preserve, despite the impending cuts.
He was quoted in the February 5 Oregonian as saying, "Oregon is not going to cease existing if this measure fails, but there will be drastic consequences to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Anybody that thinks this is all going to be absorbed in efficiencies and administrative costs is not telling you the truth." ▪
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