1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204
Today, Mayor Hales and I hosted a discussion about the Medicaid expansion that will happen on January 1, 2014, under the Affordable Care Act. Under this expansion, 96,000 people in Multnomah County will be newly eligible for Medicaid or a subsidy to purchase health insurance through the new health care exchange, Cover Oregon.
Oregon Health Authority Director Dr. Bruce Goldberg helped kick off this discussion, which included representatives from Multnomah County, the two new Coordinated Care Organizations in our community, and three service providers: Central City Concern, Volunteers of America, and DePaul Family Services.
The 2014 Medicaid expansion means that our community has the opportunity to take advantage of an infusion of new federal funds that we can use to improve the health of our community and eliminate barriers to accessing health care. For example, this expansion creates the chance to ensure that people who are involved in the criminal justice system and who struggle with mental health and addictions problems can get the care and treatment they need.
By keeping people healthy and out of the criminal justice system, we can save both the City and County resources. Today’s discussion was an important first step to doing the planning that we need to do to take advantage of the new federal resources. Today we identified several important questions that we need to answer, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of our safety net partners on this effort.
President Obama’s appointment of Charlotte, NC Mayor Anthony Foxx as Transportation Secretary is an opportunity to reflect on the link between mass transit and health outcomes. Although the link between bicycling and health is obvious, it is less obvious – but still true – that people who use transit tend to be healthier than people who drive to work, simply because walking to a transit stop gives you more exercise taking a car curb to curb. And it was a study in Mayor Foxx’s city, in conjunction with the building of a light-rail system, which proved that link.
As reported in Science Daily,
Using two surveys, one collecting data prior to the completion of an LRT [Light Rail Transit] in Charlotte, North Carolina, the second after completion, investigators found that using light rail for commuting was associated with reductions in body mass index (BMI) over time. Specifically, LRT reduced BMI by an average of 1.18 kg/m2 compared to non-LRT users in the same area over a 12-18 month follow-up period. This is equivalent to a relative weight loss of 6.45 lbs for a person who is 5'5. LRT users were also 81% less likely to become obese over time.
So as Public Health Month comes to a close, take a moment to think about that connection between transit and health.
I had the honor of being one of the many judges of the Oregon contest earlier this year. I remember thinking - as I listened to the Grant team display phenomenal knowledge of and insight into the Constitution, American history, current events, and how the democratic process works or doesn’t – “I don’t see how anyone in the country can beat this group.” As it turned out, nobody could.
Today (May 7) I was on OPB's Think Out Loud discussing the City’s Arts Tax. As you may know, I opposed the tax because it’s regressive – every person above the poverty level, whether they make $30,000 a year or $1 million a year, pays the same amount: $35. I believe that, whenever practical, taxes should be based on ability to pay. So although I support the goal of funding for arts education and organizations, I did not like the structure used to collect it.
Since its passage, the arts tax has run into a number of problems, including a legal challenge arguing that its ‘same-dollar-amount-per-person’ nature makes it an unconstitutional ‘poll tax.’
Mayor Hales has asked the Council and the Revenue Bureau to think about ways to improve the arts tax. My suggestion is to set the tax as a percentage of your Oregon income tax liability. Since the Oregon income tax is somewhat progressive, this structure would be somewhat progressive as well. Based on information I have received from the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office, in order to raise the same amount of money the tax would have to be about 1.5% of your Oregon income tax liability. The average couple filing a joint return would still pay about the same amount they do now - $70 - but a couple making $35,000 would likely pay around $15. But a really rich family would pay much more.
Since the voters of Portland approved the initial tax, I would suggest that any change also be put to the voters. That is not likely to happen until next year.
Meanwhile, please do pay the arts tax, because, well … it’s the law. You have until May 15.