Proposed Legislative Budget ‘Good News For The Oregon Health Plan’

The Oregon Health Plan and other health services were among just two areas saved from budget cuts in the Oregon legislators’ budget framework released Thursday.

Released by the Joint Committee on Ways and Means co-chairs, the framework proposes 5 percent cuts on all services except for education and health care. The state plans to fund the Oregon Health Plan “without cuts to eligibility or benefits.”’

The budget dedicated $450 million from the state’s general fund to the Oregon Health Plan. This covers less than half of the Medicaid program’s $950 million shortfall. A $141 million agreement with Oregon Health and Science University and a tax on hospitals and insurance plans passed last month is expected to cover an additional $520 for the health plan.

“It’s good news for the Oregon Health Plan,” Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, said. Nosse chairs the Ways and Means Joint Subcommittee on Human Services.

Gov. Kate Brown’s budget, which initially proposed the taxes, included $346 million from a tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products and contributions from a proposed tax on employers with staff on Medicaid.

The PDF iconlegislative budget document is based on general funds available to pay for services. It does not include potential new revenue from policies or proposed taxes up for consideration. The proposal is therefore considered more conservative than the governor’s budget, which one legislator described as a “wish list.”

Co-chairs Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, say that funding the Oregon Health Plan and K-12 education are the three top priorities in the budget document. The desire to meet critical needs, provide long-term budget stability and prepare for an economic downturn also guided the development of their budget, the plan said.

The legislative budget aims to reduce general fund spending on human services by $103 million. Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, said part of that could come from home visit services for seniors and people with disabilities, a service that he said helps keep them out of long-term care facilities. Hayden is a member of the Ways and Means Joint Subcommittee on Human Services.

Nosse said the budget will likely require cuts in programs in the Department of Human Resources and the Oregon Health Authority because the state “has to live within our means and we don’t have enough money.”

“I’m not looking forward to this exercise to try to find savings,” Nosse said. “I don’t think there are any savings we can take that don’t hurt low-income people, old people, people with disabilities or children.”

Nosse said he hopes the prospect of cuts to human services motivates people to pass Brown’s proposed cigarette tax.

Oregon Health Authority spokesman Robb Cowie said that even though the budget fully funds Medicaid, it doesn’t pay for all of the health authority’s proposed programs.

"We appreciate the co-chairs bridging the health budget funding gap for the next biennium,” Cowie said in a statement. “We'll also continue to inform legislators about other health priorities, such as improving behavioral health services for Oregonians, giving more children a healthier start in life and modernizing our public health system to protect state residents from communicable diseases, disasters and other emerging threats."

The Joint Subcommittee on Human Services held hearing this week to consider proposals to fund Oregon Health Authority programs going forward.

Have a tip about health care? You can reach Jessica Floum at [email protected].

 

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