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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

'Provider Tax' Heads To Oregon Governor's Desk

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network

Oregon lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a tax increase meant to ensure continued health care coverage for low-income Oregonians. The $670 million package raises an existing tax on hospital revenue and enacts a new tax on some health insurance premiums.

The money will mostly go to fund the Oregon Health Plan, which administers Medicaid in the state. The federal government will match much of the money raised by the tax. ?

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a Democrat from Beaverton, said that makes it a win-win for the state.

"When as many Oregonians as possible have access to high quality, affordable health care, our children learn better, our work force is more productive, and our economy is stronger," she said. ?

Some Republicans said they supported the general concept, but were concerned about the ultimate cost to consumers. But Senate GOP leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day said he would support the plan.

"Often we're faced with a choice of trying to do the greatest good for the most people, even though it can come with a downside," he said.

Ferrioli said he wasn't thrilled with the tax on insurance premiums, but said he recognized that much of the bill would help needy Oregonians maintain their access to health care. Ferrioli said his vote in support would counter "the narrative that Republicans are insensitive to people in need." ?

In the end, just four of the legislature's 42 Republicans voted for the tax to preserve health care coverage for low-income Oregonians. But it was enough to get the legislation through both chambers of the state capitol. It now heads to Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who's expected to sign it. ?

The bills could end up being the only high-profile tax legislation approved this session.  A measure to increase taxes on corporations and a bill that would raise $8 billion for transportation projects have both floundered, with less than three weeks remaining before Oregon lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn.