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Bethany Baker, The World 

SWOCC men defeat Lane Community College, 108-106, in overtime at Southwestern Oregon Community College on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. The Lakers remain undefeated at home.

Measure 101: Providing health insurance for all
6,000 Coos County residents stand to lose out on health insurance while paying higher premiums either way

COOS COUNTY — January ballots have been sent to voters with only one issue: Measure 101.

The measure is asking voters whether or not they support taxes to support Medicaid expansion funding. Measure 101 is being put in front of voters after House Bill 2391 was approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, but portions of the bill were challenged through a referendum.

Now voters are being asked to weigh in.

A “yes” vote means approving the language of five sections of House Bill 2391, which was a result from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Voting “yes” on those five sections ensures healthcare coverage for those with disabilities, children, and the elderly.

A “no” vote repeals those five sections.

“If it fails, it’s an avalanche of catastrophic issues that will fall on our community,” said Phil Greenhill, executive director of WOAH.

Greenhill explained that the largest impact, if the measure is voted down, would be in approximately 350,000 Oregonians losing their Medicaid coverage.

“If it failed, we could get back into the legislature quick enough in the short session next month and come up with a solution, but we’d be handcuffed by limitations of the ballot measure,” he said. “It would take away some of the options that we had, first of all being the $3 million in general fund money we use to draw down close to $1 billion federal funds. It would basically gut House Bill 2391.”

However, there is a Catch 22 if it passes. In fact, the editorial board with The Oregonian recommends that the measure be voted down. The board demands that the legislature delivers a better solution for its people, citing that “The sheer inequity of asking college students, K-12 school districts and small businesses to shoulder the cost of an essential program while exempting others is one of the biggest reasons.”

In addition, Bay Area Hospital would see an impact by being slapped with what some are calling a “true tax.”

“A true tax is not something we supported in the legislature from a managing care position, the hospital association and commercial insurance level, none of us supported a true tax,” Greenhill said. “We supported the 5.3 assessment that we had around for years that was for the DRG hospitals.”

That 5.3 assessment brought in a federal match to Oregon and then the money was returned to the hospitals. Greenhill had wanted to see that increased from 5.3 percent to 6.0 percent. That 6 percent assessment on the hospital would have pulled down more money from the federal government for healthcare while the hospital lost zero money.

“It wasn’t a tax because it wasn’t kept,” Greenhill said. “State leadership in the legislature wanted a true 0.7 percent tax and many of us still disagree with it. The taxes were unnecessary because that tax goes into the general fund and could be used for any purpose and could be increased at any time.

“We think it’s unfair to tax the revenue of hospitals when so many struggle anyhow. Some make $200,000 to $2 million in profit. That cost somewhere is going to be passed to the consumer.”

Consumers will not only be hit harder when going to hospital but also in paying insurance premiums. Though commercial insurance companies would be given a limit of 1.5 when raising premiums to compensate the tax, it is still an extra cost to consumers.

On the other hand, Greenhill pointed out that if the measure doesn’t pass and 6,000 Coos County residents lose coverage, premiums on the insured will go up anyway.

“It will go up because those who lose their insurance will then go to the ER, are indebted, can’t pay the bill, the hospital has to write off that bill and that will lose them another $6 million in bad debt and those admitted to the hospital have no coverage so they become charity care,” he said. “Now we have to pay providers more money to take care of these people because they don’t have insurance.

“It’s horrifying and completely unnecessary,” he said. “We could have solved it in the legislature but leadership wanted to go after the hospitals because they thought there was a lot of trapped equity in big systems like Providence and Legacy. There probably are, but that’s not true in our community. We have a hospital struggling to stay open, as are the majority of the 42 hospitals in Oregon.”

In an email to the employees at Samaritan Health Services in Corvallis, President Doug Boysen wrote:

"Although we at Samaritan remain very concerned about the impact of this additional tax on our financial position over the next two years, with the support of our Board of Directors we are joining Oregon's other hospitals in supporting a 'yes' vote on Measure 101."

Boysen states the reason behind this decision is to ensure that 95 percent of all Oregonians have health coverage.

"If Measure 101 is voted down, we fear the results could be catastrophic," he wrote.

That being said, Greenhill hopes that the legislature will correct the 0.7 tax on hospitals and instead make it a 6 percent assessment where the money is returned after the federal match.

“We’ve worked so hard to be able to ensure 99 percent of our children and over 95 percent of the adults and almost full insurance across the state,” he said. “Voting yes on Measure 101 ensures that 6,000 of our own most vulnerable community members retain coverage. Going without the Medicaid coverage they have now, at the end of the day, will cost all of us.”

As for the hospital tax, Greenhill encourages voters to call local delegates to make the change.

The World spoke with Bay Area Hospital but no official statement is being released at this time.

Amy Moss Strong, The World 

Mark Regan, Chetco Bar Fire public information officer, speaks to members of the press during a briefing Monday afternoon in Brookings.

Senator Ron Wyden calls for Department of the Interior audit

COOS BAY — Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is calling for an investigation into the Interior Departments suspected misuse of federal wildfire preparedness funding.

Wyden’s suspicion in this matter stems from a Newsweek article published on Dec. 29, 2017. The article reported on files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that suggest the Department of the Interior misused funds appropriated to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to pay Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s unrelated travel in late July 2017.

“Amidst the most expensive wildfire season in history, it is unequivocally intolerable that the Interior Department could be wasting scarce taxpayer resources that are meant to save lives,” Wyden said.

The trip in question is a helicopter flight Zinke took on July 30, 2017. According to the Newsweek article they obtained internal emails that suggested the cost of the Zinke's helicopter trip was split between the Bureau of Land Management and the National Interagency Fire Center, even though  Zinke did not visit any fire zones that day.

“As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee tasked with oversight of Interior Department activities, I ask that you audit any expenditures from the preparedness subaccount of the Department of the Interior’s Wildland Fire Management Account since Secretary Zinke was confirmed,” Wyden said.

The Department of the Interior could not be reached for comment on this allegation. 

Oregon wildfire costs up to $454 million in 2017

SALEM (AP) — The cost of fighting wildfires in Oregon skyrocketed to $454 million in 2017, the most so far this century, according to data from Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

The high cost was fueled by multiple large wildfires — and more than 2,000 total fires — that burned 665,000 acres statewide.

Between 2010 and 2015, federal and state agencies spent an average of $146 million on Oregon wildfires. That number more than tripled in 2017.

"The 2017 fire season was particularly long and arduous in the Pacific Northwest," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stephen Baker said. "Many of the large fires this year were long-duration fires that required a vast number of resources, in some cases from mid-July through September and even October."

The number of acres burned in 2017 wasn't a record, or even particularly close. In 2012, more than 1.2 million acres were blackened, but most of it was in southeast Oregon grassland.

The major fires of 2017, however, burned primarily in forestland often close to homes and infrastructure, driving up cost, officials said.

Two of Oregon's largest fires, Chetco Bar and Eagle Creek, were declared the nation's top priority during late August and September. Both fires were managed by fire crews that reached 1,500 people and required deployment of the Oregon National Guard.

"At one point, we had more than 10,300 firefighting resources assigned in the Pacific Northwest," Baker said. "Many of the regional air tanker bases also had record-breaking seasons."

The reason for the heavy wildfire season was multifaceted, said Kari Cobb, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

The previous winter brought above-average precipitation and snowpack, which led to the growth of extra fuels, she said. But those fuels quickly dried out with above-average and often scorching temperatures in early summer, "which becomes really combustible," Cobb said.

Add two major lightning storms to the mix, as occurred statewide in June and July, and you had a recipe for trouble, Cobb said.

"There was a lot of fuel, and it dried out quicker than it normally would," she said. "That's often going to lead to a bad wildfire season."

Contributed photo by Bo Shindler 

Gold Beach resident Bo Shindler took this photo 20 miles up the Rogue River on in August, about 15 miles north of where the Chetco Bar Fire started. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is calling for an investigation into the Interior Departments suspected misuse of federal wildfire preparedness funding.

3 men sue Archdiocese of Portland alleging sex abuse in North Bend

NORTH BEND — Three men filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Archdiocese of Portland alleging they were sexually abused as children by a priest in North Bend during the early 1980s.

The lawsuit, filed today in United States District Court for the District of Oregon, alleges that the three victims, who were not identified in the complaint, were each abused by the Rev. Pius Brazauskas who worked at the Holy Redeemer Church in North Bend from the late 1970s until as late as 1990.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that they were sexually abused on multiple occasions between 1978 and 1982, when they were each between five and 12 years old. They allege that the abuse included the priest French kissing the boys, pressing his erect penis against them and groping their genitals.

The plaintiffs  are the first known victims to speak publicly about abuse by Brazauskas.

“To our knowledge, our courageous clients are the first victims to publicly acknowledge abuse by this priest. Based on the information available, we know that Fr. Pius Brazauskas had extensive access to children for decades and we strongly suspect that there are other victims who were sexually abused by this priest,” said attorney Peter Janci of Crew Janci LLP, legal counsel for the plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit.

Archdiocese of Portland Communications Director David Renshaw told The World that the Archdiocese needed additional time to study the lawsuit.

"The claim was just received by our office this (Wednesday) morning. We are currently looking into the allegations as we do with any filing against the Archdiocese," Renshaw said.

According to a 1957 Eugene Register-Guard article, Brazauskas was of Lithuanian ancestry and studied fine arts in Europe before World War II. After the outset of the war, Brazauskas came to the United States where he became an assistant pastor at a parish in St. Louis. In approximately 1957, Brazauskas was reassigned to Oregon, where he became the chaplain at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene until the early 1970s. In 1972, Brazauskas relocated to North Bend and became actively involved in Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and St. Catherine’s Residence Nursing Home.

News reports from Oregon media acknowledge that Brazauskas was known for having a special rapport with children.

"Children [were] a special delight to this Catholic priest. When he tells them his name is Father Pius, some want to know if he is really their father. He always has candy and bubble gum for the youngsters, and to some he is known only as 'Dr. Bubblegum.'"

“We believe that Fr. Pius was another in a long line of Catholic priests in Oregon who were permitted to continue having access to children despite numerous red flags,” said Stephen Crew, an attorney for the victims.

In 2004, the Archdiocese of Portland became the first Catholic diocese in the nation to file bankruptcy. By the time the bankruptcy proceeding was over in 2007, the Archdiocese had settled over 300 claims and paid out nearly $90 million in claims and attorney fees to close the bankruptcy.

“Sexually abusive Catholic priests devastated the lives and the souls of trusting children who loved their church and trusted their priests. The three men bringing this case are no exception,” said Janci.

Today’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese seeks $9 million in compensatory damages on behalf of the three plaintiffs, as well as $20 million in punitive damages.

Brazauskas died in March of 1990, according to a March 3, 1990, obituary which was published in The World.