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Oregon voters to decide Medicaid funding as costs rise

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon aggressively expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act, adding enough people to leave only 5 percent of its population uninsured — one of America's lowest rates.

Now, with the reduction of a federal match that covered those enrollees, the state is calling on voters to decide how to pay for its ballooning Medicaid costs.

A special election today asks Oregonians whether they approve of a tax on hospitals, health insurers and managed care companies that would leave Medicaid, as it is now, untouched. More than one in four residents here rely on it.

Maine voters were in the national spotlight when they recently approved Medicaid expansion. But experts say Oregon's election is the only instance of voters — not lawmakers — getting the final say on the complicated question of how to fund rising Medicaid costs.

The outcome could have significant consequences for the state's health care spending.

"If it's not supported, you have a huge hole, and where do you go from there?" said Stacey Mazer, senior staff associate with the National Association of State Budget Officers. "I followed these issues starting in the fall, and this was the biggie."

Measure 101 would impose a 0.7 percent tax on some hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on the gross health insurance premiums collected by insurers and on managed care organizations, raising anywhere from $210 million to $320 million over the next two years.

Proponents call the tax an "assessment" and say money raised could cover the more than 350,000 low-income Oregonians who were added to the plan since 2014 while state lawmakers work out a long-term solution.

The loss of that revenue could jeopardize an additional $630 million to $960 million in federal Medicaid matching funds that flow to the poorest in the state, according to the nonpartisan voter pamphlet. That possibility prompted the very hospitals and health insurers who would be taxed to come out as the measure's biggest backers. They say the cost of the taxes would be less than that of uninsured emergency-room visits.

The ballot measure arose from a grassroots campaign to put parts of a bipartisan legislative funding solution passed last year before voters. Republican Rep. Julie Parrish and several colleagues were angered by portions of the bill that exempt large, self-insured corporations like Nike from Medicaid taxes but not Oregonians who buy insurance on health care exchanges.

They also believe hospitals and insurers will pass the cost to consumers, despite language that limits premium rate increases to 1.5 percent.

Parrish, who represents a Portland suburb, spearheaded the drive to collect more than 84,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Her cellphone number appears in the official voter's guide with a note urging voters to call her with questions.

People who support Measure 101 have raised $2.8 million. Parrish and her allies have raised $353,000.

"This is not a 'We hate Medicaid' referendum," Parrish said. "This is about the fact that our colleagues put forward some pieces of the funding package that we believed to be unfair, unequitable and unsustainable."

Portland resident Kelly Burke disagrees. She briefly lost her insurance when she was pregnant with her second child years ago. She now has a serious auto-immune disease and is thankful she has insurance through her partner's employer.

"What people don't understand is that people are working, but they still can't afford health care," she said.

Medicaid is a federal-state collaboration originally meant for poor families and severely disabled people. Over the years, it's grown to become the largest government health insurance program, now covering one in five Americans.

In 2014, Oregon was one of 32 states and the District of Columbia to allow people making 138 percent of the federal poverty line to qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That's $34,600 for a family of four. Before, they had to make less to qualify.

The changes brought Oregon's slew of new enrollees. For the first two years, the federal government covered the full cost for them — and for those in other states.

In 2017, the match dropped to 95 percent, adding $136 million in costs in Oregon. It will drop to 90 percent in 2020.

At the same time, the federal government asked Oregon to pay more for its other Medicaid recipients because of its strong economy. And state lawmakers voted to provide Medicaid coverage for children living in the country illegally starting Jan. 1, adding another $27 million in costs.

Parrish says she has a backup funding plan if Measure 101 fails. Lawmakers reconvene for a short, six-week session next month.


Education
Marshfield High Schools' Pirate Radio to air new music station
105.1 FM will play modern country

COOS BAY — The student-led Pirate Radio is bringing a new genre of music to the bay area. KMHS is transitioning its 1420 AM classic country station into the new 105.1 FM modern country.

“A lot of low-powered AM stations are struggling to get by,” said Drew Jones, Marshfield High School’s station manager for Pirate Radio and broadcast journalism instructor.

Because there are so many AM stations having a hard time staying in operation, the FCC issued a translating license to essentially rebroadcast onto the FM frequency.

Since getting the license to do just that, Pirate Radio received its construction permit last week allowing them to change the station’s format.

“Now we’re building up our music catalog,” Jones said. “We subscribe through a hit disc to get songs sent to us every week. For the last few years we’ve had country and current hits sent to us, but now we have to fill the gap between the mid-90’s to the 2010s, which is where we’re lacking.”

On Monday, the student management team for KMHS flipped through 2,000 to 3,000 songs. Those songs were sent to the station by request so they know what they are getting before buying.

“We’re making sure we pay for what we need instead of pay for something we will mostly not use,” Jones said. “Purchasing one of these catalogs costs $1,700, so less than $1 a song. That’s why we have to make sure it will be something we use.”

Money for the station comes from business sponsors, who pay for air time advertisements, making the radio self-sustained.

“The kids are pumped about this,” Jones said. “We’re going to be hitting both sides of what kids are listening to. Right now our country station is aimed at an older audience so it’s harder for the kids to sink their teeth into it, but with the new 105.1 and our 91.3 FM popular music station, we will have more student coverage and that’s just what we’re going for.”

All of the radio classes at Marshfield will have a hand in the new station’s establishment. Jones explained that right now there are just over 20 students per class, with five classes a day.

“It’s a great learning experience,” he said. “We start with our Radio 1, which is the introduction into the software and different spots we do, or anything that isn’t music being played.”

Radio 2 introduces students into the business aspect of the station, while Radio 3 adds on more responsibility and requires students to work on their voice and talent.

“Then we have the management team that decides which spot goes on air,” Jones said. “They create assignments for the rest of the kids. Once they hit that level, then they are running it. I supervise and try to give as much responsibility to them because that’s the best way to learn.”

Oddly enough, very few of the radio students plan on entering broadcast journalism. Because of this, Jones gears the course mainly to teach basic job skills.

“They do this to have fun and get experience for how to be in the workplace at least one hour a day,” he said.

The new modern county 105.1 FM station won’t air until late February or early March.


Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska's Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state's coast and sending some residents fleeing to higher ground.

Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours after waves failed to show up in coastal Alaska communities.

Alaska's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said there have been no reports of damage, so far.

The strong earthquake hit at 12:30 a.m. and was recorded about 170 miles southeast of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Kodiak Island is located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, which was not under a tsunami threat.

Reports varied about how long the shaking lasted. In the popular cruise ship town of Seward, about 230 miles northeast of Kodiak Island, fire chief Eddie Athey said the quake felt like a gentle rattle and lasted for up to 90 seconds.

"It went on long enough that you start thinking to yourself, 'Boy, I hope this stops soon because it's just getting worse,'" Athey said.

Initially, the USGS said the earthquake was a magnitude 8.2. That prompted the tsunami warning for coastal Alaska and Canada's British Columbia, while the remainder of the U.S. West Coast was under a watch.

An advisory remained in effect for a small part of the state. Watches were canceled for Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. Officials in Japan also said there was no tsunami threat there.

Warnings from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska warned: "Emergency Alert. Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland."

Kodiak officials warned residents to evacuate if they lived in low-lying areas. Residents scrambled to safety, and some sought refuge in schools that were transformed into shelters.

The city of Kodiak was projected to see the first wave about an hour after the quake, but 90 minutes after the quake, there was no report of any waves.

Lt. Tim Putney of the Kodiak Police Department said: "We haven't seen anything yet or had any reports of a wave."

However, officials told people to hold fast at evacuation centers until further notice. He said the town has several shelters above the 100-foot mark, and they were still encouraging people below that level to evacuate.

The earthquake woke Putney out of a dead sleep, and he estimates it shook for at least 30 seconds.

"I've been Kodiak for 19 years that was the strongest, longest lasting one I've ever felt," he said by telephone.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said on his Twitter feed that he has been in contact with local officials and the state's adjutant general, and he urged residents to heed any warnings to move inland or to higher ground.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake was felt widely in several communities on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout southern Alaska, but it also had no immediate reports of damage. People reported on social media that the quake was felt hundreds of miles away, in Anchorage.

Kerry Seifert, an emergency management specialist in the state emergency operations center, said no reports of damage had been received as the timeline for initial waves reaching some communities passed.

"This is almost too soon to be into it to get that kind of information," he said.


Local
Commercial fishermen return to work after delayed crab season
Final negotiated price still unknown as of Tuesday morning

COOS COUNTY — Commercial fishermen headed out to sea on Monday morning.

After a delayed season, due to bad weather and extended price negotiations, crab pots are now being dropped this week.

Though the fishermen are back to work after finally negotiating an acceptable price per pound, the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission wasn’t sure what that number was.

“I don’t know what price they landed on,” said Hugh Link, executive director of ODCC. “They terminated the price negotiations on Jan. 9, so this was outside those price negotiations. I’ve heard three different stories and honestly don’t know and won’t know what that price is until they bring back their first catch.”

As previously reported “major processors originally offered fishermen a price of $2.30. Last year’s price per pound standard was $2.89.”

Link said now fishermen are out trying to drop pots before the next storm system moves in and while the seas were down.

“I would think by Thursday when they check their gear, we should see crab on the docks by the weekend,” he said.

The World reached out to other sources to find out what price the fishermen landed on, but no calls were returned by deadline.