Julie Parrish: Put the clamps to care center profiteering

For the News-Register

It’s a rare occasion when I find myself urging voters to side with government in supporting a new tax, but in the case of Ballot Measure 36-202, designed to repeal such a tax, residents of McMinnville should vote NO. They should push back against special interests who are grossly profiteering from our healthcare system.

The question at hand is whether voters should repeal a city ordinance establishing a “bed tax” on senior care facilities. A YES vote sides with special interests to repeal the tax. A NO vote sides with the city.

As a former eight-year Republican lawmaker, and one of the most fiscally conservative politicians in Oregon, I strongly opposed bed taxes in the Legislature. If healthcare is a basic human need, then I believe it shouldn’t be taxed.

In fact, I gathered 90,000 signatures in 90 days in an effort to put Measure 101 on the ballot.

It was aimed at stopping a runaway healthcare tax scheme supported by industry profiteers, including the Oregon Healthcare Association. Collectively, association members and others profiteering from our Medicaid system spent nearly $4 million in an attempt, ultimately successful, to win voter approval of the scheme.

So I find it ironic that the Oregon Healthcare Association has poured nearly $200,000 into your community in an effort to repeal your local bed tax proposal.  Not only has the association supported every bed tax passed in the Oregon Legislature for years, but it has generously rewarded lawmakers voting yes with campaign cash.

Here’s the difference between the bed taxes the Oregon Healthcare Association supports in Salem and the tax proposed by McMinnville’s city councilors:
Bed taxes passed by the Legislature come with a generous Medicaid match from the federal government. Our tax dollars then get funneled back to these facilities, most of which are for-profit — and to executives like Jim Carlson, president of the Oregon Healthcare Association.

The most recent Guidestar non-profit 990 reports show Mr. Carlson receiving nearly $700,000 in compensation. That’s our government dollars supporting his lobbying for more government dollars, largely going into the pockets of for-profit medical facilities.

You see, the Oregon Healthcare Association is all for bed taxes if Medicaid kicks cash back its way.

But the McMinnville tax is a “hard tax,” meaning it takes a bite out of the bottom line of these profiteering enterprises.

What many of these facilities have figured out — not just in McMinnville, but across the state — is that they can reduce their labor costs if they can use 911 emergency service assistance as a trained backup.

Using 911 services instead of properly hiring and compensating in-house healthcare staff is way for senior centers to increase their profits. As a result, a Medicaid patient recently had to take two taxpayer-supported ambulance rides to the hospital after a Portland care facility failed to address a simple medical issue, resulting in a costly round of surgery and associated hospital stay. 

The over-reliance by these facilities on our 911 EMS system is unfair to every other resident in McMinnville. In effect, you, the taxpayers, are subsidizing these facilities in two ways — once with your property taxes for the overuse of emergency management services, and again with your state and federal income taxes to pay for Medicaid.

If you buy your own private health insurance, well, you’re paying a third time with a two-percent health insurance premium tax. As a consequence, the profits of this type of facility grows while you pick up the tab. 

A NO on Measure 36-202 rightly demands that care center corporations and faux non-profits like the Oregon Healthcare Association pay their fair share of healthcare costs. It demands that they hire better staff to provide the care you are already paying for with your tax dollars. And it rightly holds them accountable for trying to game the system.

Their business model is largely predicated on our tax dollars. These facilities deserve more scrutiny. And they certainly need to put more skin in the game, given how much they are profiting from our tax dollars.

Do not let them get away with scamming taxpayers. Vote NO on Measure 36-202.

Julie Parrish is a former Republican lawmaker from West Linn. She served on both the Human Services and Healthcare committees in the Oregon House.


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