Gov. Kate Brown’s Budget Includes Cuts for Oregon Hospitals, Which Are Not Happy

Hospitals just worked to pass a new tax in November and are now facing an onslaught of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic worsens.

Providence Portland Medical Center. (Wesley Lapointe)

The budget Gov. Kate Brown's released today brought cries of pain from Oregon's hospitals, which are currently dealing with an unprecedented number of COVID-19 patients. (Five hundred seventy-seven patients are hospitalized with COVID as of Dec. 1, up from 171 on Nov. 1.)

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems spent heavily to pass Measure 108 in November. That measure increased the tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack and will generate more than $100 million a year in new revenue for the Oregon Health Authority, which provides funding to hospitals through the state's Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan.

Brown's proposed budget would reduce hospital system revenue by a similar amount through reduced reimbursement rates and a lower assumed medical inflation rate.

Becky Hultberg, CEO of the hospital association, says Brown's budget, released Nov. 30, takes money away from OAHHS members when they need it most.

Hultberg said hospital revenue dropped 21% during the first six months of the year. "[Brown] has chosen to propose direct cuts to hospitals in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in a century," Hultberg said in a statement. "Cuts of this magnitude could force hospitals to reduce services to Oregonians during a pandemic. These cuts cannot be justified."

House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) agreed with that critique.

"We are in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis and Gov. Brown has proposed direct cuts to our hospitals and health care services. Oregon's budget is not facing a structural shortfall, this is public policy choice the governor has made in her proposed spending plan for the state," Drazan said.

"She is making a mistake by cutting health care and the legislature should reject it. Health care should be prioritized, not put on the chopping block or punted to the federal government.

"Oregonians have supported increased taxes to sustain hospitals and health care funding again and again. Now it is our turn to prioritize fully funding our health care system."

Brown's spokeswoman Elizabeth Merah responded: "Our hospitals are absolutely critical. However, with 150,000 Oregonians joining the Oregon Health Plan rolls since the pandemic, we can't protect the plan, cut taxes and not pursue any cost savings in the health care system all at once."

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