Oregon House committee hears bill requiring employers to fund employee health care

The Oregon House Committee on Revenue recently held a public hearing on a bill requiring certain employers to pay an assessment to contribute to eligible employees’ health care costs.

Specifically, the bill would require employers with 50 or more employees to expend an amount specified by the Oregon Health Policy Board (OHPB) toward providing health care to their employees. Eligible employees include those who average at least eight hours of work per week and have worked for their employer for at least 90 days.

 

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OHPB would establish an hourly “health care expenditure rate” for employers to pay. That rate, when multiplied by their employees’ number of payable hours, is equal to the employer’s “required health care expenditure.”

Employers whose health expenditures do not meet the required threshold would pay the difference into the Health Care Access Fund. The bill also establishes the Employer Participation Program to utilize those funds to “provide financial assistance for the costs of premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for a covered employee.”

During the bill’s public hearing, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen spoke in support of the bill, noting that the policy is one the four components proposed by Gov. Kate Brown in her Medicaid funding package.  

“In short, what HB 2269 is, is a spending requirement,” Allen said. “An employer has to spend 50 cents an hour on their health care. That can take any number of forms: It can be in terms of health insurance, contributions to a health savings account, paying for procedures for that matter. But if none of those are taken, then the option is to pay into the Health Care Access Fund.”

“[The requirement] aims to really try to figure out a way to try to deal with this ongoing cost of health care for people who are working but aren’t able to access health insurance in that fashion,” Allen said.

During the hearing, committee Vice Chair Rep. Lynn Findley questioned Allen on his assertion that the health care expenditure rate would likely be 50 cents per hour for eligible employees.

“I can’t find that number in the bill. All I find is that it gives the agency full discretion with no cap,” Findley said. 

Allen responded that OHA has been using 50 cents in their modeling, and that it would likely be the amount established.

Amanda Dalton, representing the Northwest Grocery Association, also took issue with the lack of detail in the bill.

“You won’t find 50 cents in HB 2269…there is no specific fee or target amount to raise at all,” Dalton said. “This bill gives the Oregon Health Policy Board more than a blank check; it gives them a blank checkbook.”

Those testifying in opposition also expressed concern about the administrative headaches the bill would create, their confusion around employees who work for multiple employers, and the difficulty in trying to find a private insurer that will cover employees who only work eight hours per week.

According to testimony submitted by the Oregon Association of Health Underwriters, most Oregon carriers “set a minimum hourly requirement of 17.5 hrs/week.”

During the public hearing, the bill received supportive testimony from Tax Fairness Oregon, SEIU Local 49, AllCare Health, and the Oregon Women’s Rights Coalition.

The House Health Care Committee referred the bill to the Committee on Revenue “without recommendation as to passage” earlier this month. No action has been taken since Monday’s public hearing.