Health Care Tax Would Hurt Middle Class

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Many Oregonians are now spending as much on health insurance and health care as they are on their mortgage payments. The Oregon legislature recently passed House Bill 2391 (signed by Governor Kate Brown) that will spike these costs even higher.

The law provides $605 million in new funds to the Oregon Health Authority. The money is meant to fill the fiscal hole made by the state’s costly expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Most of the money will come from taxes on health insurance providers, hospitals, managed care providers, and insurance provided through the Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB).

Two of Oregon’s largest insurance providers on the ACA exchange have been approved for double-digit premium increases: Kaiser at almost 15 percent and Providence at more than 10 percent. For a 40-year-old with a Silver ACA plan, that amounts to an increased cost of about $500 a year.

The law explicitly allows the new taxes on health insurance providers to be passed on to consumers. With these new taxes, that Silver ACA plan will cost about $625 more in 2019 than in 2018. It’s not just 40-year-olds who will get hit with the insurance tax. Nearly 12,000 college students who buy their own health care as a requirement of attending a public college will pay the tax. Small group employers—such as the local coffee shop, auto repair, or bookstore—will pay the new tax.

Taxes on hospitals will raise the costs of care across the board. Emergency room visits, surgeries, diagnostics, and even childbirth will be hit with this new sales tax on hospital services. The cost of these taxes also will be passed on in the form of higher deductibles and premiums. Even if you don’t go to the hospital, you will be paying the hospital tax through higher insurance prices.

Because of the tax on the PEBB, local governments and school districts will also pay higher prices to insure their employees. These higher costs will lead to further cuts in staffing and services. Oregon’s already crowded classrooms will almost certainly get more crowded as districts struggle to fund the PERS crisis and higher insurance costs.

Medicaid providers are also hit with the tax. Because they do not have the pricing flexibility of other providers, they will have a harder time passing on the higher costs to consumers. Instead, they likely will reduce payments to doctors, nurses, and staff. With reduced payments, these professionals may decide to get out of the Medicaid market, thereby worsening the current shortage of Medicaid providers.

The Oregon Health Authority reports it recently removed nearly 55,000 people from its Medicaid program, after the state found they no longer qualified or failed to respond to an eligibility check. State auditors said in May that each of these Medicaid enrollees costs Oregon, on average, about $430 per month, or more than $550 million a biennium. These new savings alone more than cover the legislature’s tax increases.

While nearly everyone will be hit with the cost of these taxes, Oregon’s middle-class families will be hit the hardest. The Census Bureau reports that more than half of Oregon’s uninsured are adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who are not in poverty. These middle-class Oregonians surely want health insurance but have been priced out of the market. According to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of the individuals buying insurance on the Obamacare exchange get no subsidies under the law. This has been called “the middle-class loophole of no help.” Adding the legislature’s new taxes will drive more of the middle class to take their chances with being uninsured. Is this really the state of health care we want for Oregon?

These taxes can be stopped. StopHealthCareTaxes.com is now collecting signatures to put Referendum 301 on the ballot, allowing voters to repeal about $320 million in new taxes on health insurance and health care. It would save the average household more than $200 a year in new taxes. Middle-class families will see even bigger savings. The referendum won’t stop the cost of health care from rising, but it will stop things from getting worse than they already are for Oregon’s middle class.


Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is an Oregon-based economist, adjunct professor at Portland State University, and Academic Advisor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on September 21, 2017.

You Can Stop New Health Care Taxes

By Steve Buckstein

The Oregon Health Authority has finally removed nearly 55,000 people from its Medicaid program because an audit found they no longer qualified or failed to complete an eligibility check. At $430 a month per person, this can save taxpayers some $550 million a biennium.

This tremendous savings means that there is even less reason to let some $320 million in new health care taxes go into effect next year.

Why should some Oregonians have to pay a new tax on their health insurance premiums, and why should many hospitals have to pay a new tax on their income that will be passed on to patients?

If you are a registered Oregon voter, you can sign the petition to put these new taxes on the ballot by going to StopOregonHealthCareTaxes.com. Signatures should be returned in the mail no later than October 1, which is less than two weeks away.

Assuming enough signatures are gathered, the Referendum will appear on a special election ballot in January. You will then have a chance to undo what the legislature and the Governor tried to do, which is make health insurance and health care even more expensive than they are now.

So sign the petition, and then vote against these new health care taxes.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Governor Brown Wants Oregonians to “Take One for the Global Team” over CO2

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has announced her intention to pass legislation in the short session of 2018 to place a regulatory limit on emissions of carbon dioxide by large industrial sources. Once a company exceeds the annual limit, it will have to purchase allowances for additional emissions.

Proponents estimate that the regulations will cost businesses $1.4 billion per biennium. These costs will be passed on to consumers.

Such regulations might be appropriate if there were known environmental or health benefits to reducing carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, such a clear link does not exist. Not only are benefits speculative, but they are global in nature and very long term—possibly centuries in the future.

The costs, however, are very clear. They will be known, immediate, and local. Prices of cement, steel, and millions of consumer products will have to go up.

In essence, the Governor is asking Oregonians to “take one for the global team” in the hope that somebody, somewhere will benefit in the misty future.

This is not likely to be embraced by voters who already feel immense strain from the high cost of housing, health insurance, and public employee pensions.

State legislators have many problems to worry about. Regulating CO2 should not be one of them.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

Whose Money Is Your Oregon Kicker Refund?

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

State economists have confirmed that individual Oregon income taxpayers will receive kicker refunds next year. Based on the May revenue forecast, more than $463 million will be returned to taxpayers as a credit on their 2018 tax bills, with the average refund being $227.

But with the news that the coming refunds will reduce our tax liabilities, some are criticizing the way the kicker law works, while others argue the money really belongs to the state, not the taxpayers. They argue that as long as any group of Oregonians—or any state government budget item—has a “need” for that money, then the money should go to them instead of back to the individuals who earned it.

Whether the kicker law is good or bad public policy doesn’t change the answer to a more fundamental question: Whose money is it? Is the kicker a rebate for overpaying your taxes or is it somehow the State of Oregon’s money, better left in government coffers? If we can find a better way to restrain runaway government spending, we should do so. But until that day arrives, Oregon’s kicker law is one defense against those who argue that some of the money you earned belongs to someone else just because they “need” it.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade.

“Worker’s Choice” Would End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This is National Employee Freedom Week (August 20-26), a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues.

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) conducts surveys of union members and households. One significant finding is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with employers. Union leaders argue labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. “Worker’s Choice” would end this so-called free-rider problem (which is really a forced-rider problem).

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains: “Without requiring a complete overhaul of collective bargaining laws, [Worker’s Choice] can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers.”

According to the NEFW survey, two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree that workers should be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent non-dues payers. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon. Until that happens, Worker’s Choice should continue to be brought to the attention of union members and the public.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Time to Stop Forcing Union Membership

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

This week (August 20-26) is National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues. The effort “empowers union employees with information to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them, including identifying non-union alternatives that better suit their needs.” An interactive map at employeefreedomweek.com lets workers in Oregon and other states find links to information helpful to those wanting more employee freedom. More than 100 organizations across the country, including Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, are affiliated with the annual campaign.

“Right to Work” states are states in which union membership may not be enforced as a condition of employment. Workers may choose to join a union or not, without fear of losing employment, salary, benefits, or seniority. Workers in the 22 states that are not yet Right to Work, such as Oregon, do not have full freedom to opt out of union membership. However, they do have the right to become agency fee payers, to identify as religious/conscientious objectors, or to require that their dues not be used for political purposes. According to National Employee Freedom Week’s website, “many employees are thrilled to learn that alternative professional associations provide better benefits and professional development opportunities for a fraction of the cost of union membership.”

Last year a survey of union members and union households found that about two-thirds nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer, an option known as “Worker’s Choice.” By the same margin (66.9% to 33.1%), Oregonian union members support Worker’s Choice, too. Worker’s Choice would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem) commonly touted by union leaders, who argue that labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying all dues and fees.

Oregon labor law is similar to that of many states that don’t allow individual workers to represent themselves if a union has organized their workplace. But now we know that most Oregon union members want this to change. They want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent these non-dues-payers.

You would think the unions would be all over the Worker’s Choice solution, but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that don’t have Right to Work require that non-union members still contribute the non-political portion of dues to their unions to cover bargaining and representation costs. The unions want the money, pure and simple. Of course, they also wanted compulsory political dues, but in 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court Beck decision gave all workers the right to opt out of those, thanks to now-Oregonian Harry Beck’s decades-long battle to preserve his free speech rights. He tells his story at oregonemployeechoice.com.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) could have freed all public sector workers nationwide from paying compulsory union dues based on the argument that such compulsion violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Before the case could be decided, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a four-four tie vote in the Court. This resulted in upholding a lower court decision denying ten California public school teachers their rights to be free of union compulsion.

This union compulsion brings to mind the well-known statement by Thomas Jefferson:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

That is what the Supreme Court left in place—the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon and nationwide. Until that happens, National Employee Freedom Week will continue to bring this injustice to the attention of union members and the public.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on August 24, 2017.

The Right to Choose or Reject Union Representation Respects Workers

By Kathryn Hickok

Why do many workers choose to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their money than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support an organization that promotes different political beliefs from their own.

August 20-26, 2017 is National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues.

Many recent scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households think about these issues. In 2015, National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?” 

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed that year answered No. This implies that a large number of Oregon’s current union membership of 228,000 may not realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Oregon Takes a Big Step to Battle Opioid Overdoses

By Steve Buckstein

For a variety of reasons, many Americans are becoming addicted to both legal and illegal opioid drugs, risking overdose and death.*

Oregon just made it easier for friends and family members of those at risk to save their lives by administering what is known as the “overdose drug” naloxone. It “counteracts the potentially lethal effects of heroin, oxycodone and other abused narcotics.” It has become relatively easy to use in the form of a nasal mist and does not require a physician prescription.

Passed overwhelmingly in both the Oregon House and Senate, House Bill 3440 was signed into law by the Governor last week. Among other provisions, the law shields persons “acting in good faith, if the act does not constitute wanton misconduct” from “civil liability for any act or omission of an act committed during the course of distributing and administering naloxone….”

Adoption of such so-called “good Samaritan” laws in a number of states has been found to reduce opioid-related deaths.

Some critics believe that such laws encourage drug use and hamper law enforcement efforts. But, if fighting the drug war comes at the expense of lives that could readily be saved, Oregonians should reject that war, and celebrate laws that make it easier to help those harmed by dangerous drugs.

* The Wall Street Journal just editorialized on the opioid epidemic on August 15, noting that overdose deaths are rising much faster in certain states like Oregon that opted into ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Portland’s latest attempt to centrally plan transportation patterns is backfiring

By Jessica Miller

Portland has a longstanding history of attempting to socially engineer people’s transportation patterns, and the “Better Naito” project is no different.

In 2015, a group of students from Portland State University created the idea of “Better Naito” as their capstone project. From April 28th until September 30th each year, Portland planners intend to enhance the lives of pedestrians and bikers along the Waterfront by reducing car capacity from two lanes to one on SW Naito Parkway and transforming one lane into an open area for walkers and bikers. The project was implemented and paid for by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), Portland State University (PSU), Better Block PDX, and $350,000 from the Portland City Council.

Advocates of “Better Naito” claim that “[f]eedback from the public was very positive,” but there is more to the story. After receiving copious amounts of negative feedback from business owners who see fewer shoppers, employees who experience longer commutes, and shoppers who can’t reach desired downtown destinations, the Portland Businesses Alliance created a petition to the Portland City Council in opposition to “Better Naito.” They claim the project is “harmful to our city’s economy and extremely disruptive to commuters.”

It’s no surprise Portland’s latest attempt to centrally plan commuters’ lives is backfiring, but that hasn’t stopped advocates from making the project annual. To voice your opinion on “Better Naito,” visit the Portland Business Alliance’s online petition.


Jessica Miller is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

Oregon’s New Health Care Taxes Are Unjustifiable

By Lydia White

Soon after the Oregon Legislature passed a bill expected to generate $550 million of tax revenue to help pay for Medicaid, the state found nearly 45% of all Medicaid recipients are currently ineligible to receive health care benefits.

The bill imposes a sales tax on health insurance premiums and hospital revenue that will be borne by Oregonians. For example, 217,000 people in the individual market and over 11,000 college students who buy their own health insurance are among the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who will pay. Local Oregon school districts will pay some $25 million and community colleges will likely be forced to raise tuition costs, all because of these new taxes.

If the state hadn’t awarded Medicaid benefits to over 37,000 unqualified people, costing $191,000,000, wasted over $300,000,000 on the failed Cover Oregon insurance exchange website, or spent an additional $166,700,000 on another failed IT system, even proponents of these new sales taxes would have had a hard time justifying them.

Fortunately, Rep. Julie Parrish (R) and two other state legislators are gathering signatures to refer these taxes to the ballot at what might be a January special election. They need almost 59,000 voter signatures by October 5th to qualify for the ballot.

To help hold Oregon’s political leaders and health care bureaucracies responsible, download and sign a petition at StopHealthCareTaxes.com.


Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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