My health care is at stake | Opinion

We need a clean, transparent election.

Recently there were statewide headlines raising concerns that Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has a serious conflict of interest issue in his role as the elections chief. I share those concerns and want to make sure more people are aware of them because the health care of hundreds of thousands of Oregonians like me is at risk.

Here is the issue: Julie Parrish, who serves both as a state representative and as Mr. Richardson’s political consultant, is now wearing a third hat. She is the chief petitioner of Referendum 301, through which she will cut funding for the state reinsurance pool and the Medicaid program. If she is successful, Oregonians who buys their own health insurance – as I do – will see a premium increase. The reinsurance pool, according to state insurance regulators, reduced 2018 premiums for people like me by 6 percent. In addition to cutting funding for the reinsurance pool, Referendum 301 will cut $1.3 billion from the state Medicaid budget, which will result in the loss of health care of some 360,000 Oregonians. Our local representative, Cedric Hayden, is a co-petitioner as well, which is very disappointing.

I cannot afford that additional extra premium increase and as a cancer survivor, it is life threatening for me to go without insurance. I do not have insurance coverage through my job, as is the case for many Oregonians. Referendum 301 will unfairly target people like me. And as a personal support professional for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, I worry about what my clients will do if their health care is suddenly cut off.

With so much at stake, it is critical that everything relating to this referendum be by the book and held to the highest standard.

As media recently reported, Mr. Richardson has paid Rep. Parrish $330,000 and she continues to receive monthly payments from him through his political action committee even as she is gathering signatures on the health care referendum.

This creates an extraordinary situation: Mr. Richardson will be responsible for overseeing the signature verification for his consultant’s referendum. If Referendum 301 qualifies, he will be setting deadlines for the voters pamphlet statement and will be overseeing when and what the voters see about the referendum before they cast their ballots.

There are other red flags. Mr. Richardson’s former communications director is being paid for work related to Referendum 301. And the top contributor to Referendum 301’s political action committee is also a top contributor to both Richardson and Parrish’s candidate committees, writing five-figure checks to each.

What other coordination is happening or will be happening between Mr. Richardson and the Referendum 301 campaign? Right now, there’s no way to know short of filing costly, slow and cumbersome public records requests on a daily basis.

All of this news came out only after the Oregon Nurses Association, which is concerned about how Referendum 301 will affect patients, made a reasonable request. They asked Mr. Richardson and his team to “act immediately to develop a full transparency policy regarding his communications with Representative Julie Parrish that includes all matters relating to the special election Referendum 301 to ensure that all matters are handled with an impartiality and in the full view of Oregon voters.”

Mr. Richardson has so far ignored this fair request.

Oregonians deserve clean, fair and transparent elections at every step of the process. In order to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest issues, Rep. Hayden should also call for a clean election and for Mr. Richardson to release all the records relating to his political consultant and the referendum.

For me, and for the people like me who cannot afford even higher premiums or to lose health care altogether, the stakes are very high. We just narrowly escaped an immediate rollback of health care coverage at the federal level. The fact we are facing similar cuts from our local politicians is incredibly disheartening and frightening. Secretary of State Richardson, Julie Parrish, and Cedric Hayden should hold themselves to the highest ethical standard in this election and be fully transparent and forthright about Richardson’s conflict of interest issues.

Maleta Christian of Myrtle Creek is a personal support worker for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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