Oregon voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported the Legislature's funding mechanism for the state's expanded Medicaid program, preserving coverage for hundreds of thousands of people for two more years. Now lawmakers must look for a more permanent way to maintain one of the nation's lowest rates of uninsured people.
Ballot Measure 101's passage means hospitals will pay 0.7 percent on gross receipts and insurers will pay 1.5 percent on premiums.
A small group of lawmakers who opposed that funding plan launched a referendum campaign to repeal portions of it, arguing that the burden unfairly fell on individual Oregonians. Voters responded by reaffirming their support for broad health care coverage — in a special election that cost taxpayers $3.32 million.
Supporters predicted up to 350,000 Oregonians could lose coverage if Measure 101 failed, forcing them to use emergency rooms for care. Hospitals are required by law to treat everyone, and they pass on those costs through increased rates.
That's the principle behind the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act: When more people have coverage, it drives the cost down for everyone. Congress did away with the penalty for failing to purchase insurance as part of the tax bill passed last year. That takes effect in 2019.
Federal support for Medicaid is beyond state control. But the Legislature does have to come up with the state's share. Legislators should listen to the voters, and start now to develop long-term funding when the two-year plan voters just affirmed runs out.