Keep this in mind: If you want to say no to a tax on hospitals, coordinated care organizations, the Public Employees Benefits Board and health insurers, vote no on Measure 101 come January.

Voters need to recognize just what Measure 101 would get rid of: a tax on revenue from patients and clients that will, one way or another, be added to those patients’ and clients’ bills. Worse, it applies to some Oregonians — teachers and those who buy their own health insurance — but not to those whose health insurance is supplied by their employers. Members of that latter group will pay if they’re hospitalized, but their health insurance premiums will remain untaxed.

The tax is being sold as the way to save the Oregon Health Plan, which provides Medicaid services to more than a quarter of all Oregonians. Lawmakers approved it in mid-June largely on a party-line vote. In approving the measure they ignored another proposal that would have kept the Oregon Health Plan whole without indirectly taxing everyone who uses it.

Just as bad is the tax on hospitals, many of which face declining revenues. The bill increases hospital taxes at a time when they can ill afford to pay more. All Oregon hospitals but two in the Willamette Valley are nonprofit establishments.

The tax would be particularly burdensome in Central Oregon, where the St. Charles Health System, which runs all four hospitals here, faces flat or falling revenues. In fact, without changes the system must fill a projected gap in operating income of as much as $35 million next year, as labor and equipment costs rise and reimbursement rates fail to keep up with costs.

It’s that reality that led the region’s largest employer this week to announce plans to lay off workers, cut salaries for some, including executives, and eliminate some expected salary increases. The last thing its leadership needs to worry about is whether or not it will be hit by a higher tax than it has been in the past.

For now, it’s unclear just what Measure 101 will be called. Its sponsors have appealed a ballot title that carefully failed to use the word “tax”, and the state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the appeal. Remember though, if you want to say no to the tax, vote no on the ballot measure.

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