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Multiple people who attended a Measure 101 forum Thursday night at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library asked about how the health care tax would affect public school districts.

Measure 101 seeks approval for a pair of taxes to temporarily fund Medicaid expansion. The measure seeks to impose a 0.7 percent tax on hospital net revenues, as well as a 1.5 percent tax on premiums of health insurance companies, the Public Employees’ Benefit Board and coordinated care organizations.

A “yes” vote on the measure would approve those assessments, while a “no” vote would repeal them. Ballots must be received by an elections office or put in an official drop box by 8 p.m. on Jan. 23.

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who is in favor of 101, said the state of Oregon has accounted for the $25 million cost to school districts if the measure passes. Gelser said districts will not have to lay off teachers or cut programs if voters approves the taxes. She also said that school districts benefit when students and their families are healthy. Further, she said, many education associations, such as the Oregon School Boards Association and Oregon School Employees Association, support the measure.

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, who opposes Measure 101, said the legislature passed Oregon’s education budget before deciding on funding for the state's Medicaid programs, so the districts have not accounted for the cost of the tax. He said he’s been contacted by district administrators who are concerned about the cost to education. Hayden said he previously proposed a bill that did not require school districts to contribute to the tax and that his bill could serve as an alternative option if Measure 101 fails.

The legislators faced off at a forum sponsored by the nonpartisan Corvallis League of Women Voters. Janet Bauer of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which is in favor of Measure 101, also served on the panel. About 70 people attended the discussion.

One participant asked about how the passage of the measure would impact premiums.

The measure permits insurers to increase premiums on health care plans by up to 1.5 percent to cover the costs of the assessment.

“When more people are covered, all of our health care costs go down,” Gelser said.

Hayden disagreed. He worries small businesses will shoulder the burden and could go out of business.

One attendee asked about the certainty that Medicaid recipients would lose coverage or see a reduction in services if Measure 101 failed.

Hayden answered that he could say conclusively that no one would lose access to health care. He said this is because a large cut in coverage would economically impact the state in a negative way due to a reduction in Affordable Care Act tax revenues.

“There is no financial justification for cutting the population,” he said. “We are not going to cut the population.”

Gelser said she wasn’t as optimistic and that she expects a Measure 101 failure would diminish the quality of services for Medicaid recipients.

“There isn’t a plan B that has support in the legislature except for to cut services, and that hurts everybody,” she said.

Bauer said that health care is a basic need that must be paid for. She said the legislature has tried to distribute the responsibility as fairly as possible.

“My position is that maybe none of us would prefer to pay any of an assessment,” Bauer said. “But guess what, we all benefit by having a functional health care system, and it ought to be something we support.”

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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