SALEM — The Bend area’s two first-term Republican House members went separate ways on Tuesday’s vote on a bipartisan bill to partially fund Medicaid in Oregon.
House Bill 2010 passed 44-15. Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, was among six Republicans who joined with Democrats in support of the bill. Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, was among 15 Republicans voting “no.” The bill now goes to the Senate.
The bill would plug just under half of the estimated $900 million funding gap in the Oregon Health Plan.
Supporters said it was necessary to shore up the state’s Medicaid program, which covers nearly 400,000 residents earning at or below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level — about $16,753 per year.
The bill extends a tax on health care providers that supporters said is used in the majority of states as a way to draw down extra federal Medicaid funds.
The bill also extends the state’s tax on health insurers, which proponents say will further stabilize preventative health care costs.
Helt said the bill was imperfect and leaves the Legislature still scrambling to find ways to cover the other half of the shortfall.
“My vote didn’t come without concerns,” Helt said. “The funding is not finished yet. We still have a gap.”
But Helt said delaying the funding issue would hurt too many people who depend on the Oregon Health Plan, particularly children.
“I am committed to making sure that our young people in the state have medical insurance and care,” Helt said.
Helt’s vote was an early indication this session that she will side with Democrats on some issues, despite any pressure from the House Republican Caucus.
“I will be voting my conscience on every vote I take,” Helt said. “I will not view any one of my votes as a partisan vote. You vote with your heart, and I believe that is what my constituents elected me to do.”
Zika said he voted against the bill because of the impact of the bill on insurance premiums for small businesses and schools. Some Republicans had sought to exempt both from the bill.
“It’s hard enough for schools to pay for everything else, they don’t need the additional cost,” Zika said.
Republicans who opposed the bill said they felt Democrats had rushed it through without fully debating the merits of Republican amendments, which were rejected by Democrat-majority committees.
“I felt like it was getting pushed through,” Zika said. “We have four months to go in the session, and I think we could have come up with a better solution if we took more time.”
Legislative leaders are still working on plans on how to raise additional funds for the Oregon Health Plan.
Ideas include a $2-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and increasing levies on companies that do not provide health care insurance, forcing many of their employees to use the Oregon Health Plan.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
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