Over the past two weeks, Oregon has signed up so many low-income residents for health coverage that the state has cut its uninsured population by 10 percent, according to state health officials. The majority of those people are newly eligible for public insurance plans thanks to Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program.
The Oregon Health Plan — which is what the state calls its Medicaid-funded program for poor residents — has enrolled 56,000 new people this month. State officials credit those high numbers to a fast-track enrollment system that allows people to easily sign up. More than 250,000 food stamp recipients in the state received a notice informing them that they’ve become eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, and explaining that they can either make a phone call or fill out a form in order to complete the enrollment process.
“This is tremendous news for the thousands of Oregonians anxious to get access to quality, affordable health care,” Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) said in a statement. “We still have a ways to go, but in reducing our uninsured rate by 10 percent in just two weeks, we’re showing what’s possible when a state is committed to fundamentally changing the health care system to provide better access, better health and lower costs.”
October 1 marked the first day of enrollment for Obamacare’s state-level insurance exchanges, one of the central tenets of the health reform law. That date was also the beginning of the enrollment period for the people who will gain insurance coverage under newly-expanded Medicaid programs, the second mechanism that Obamacare uses to extend insurance to people who don’t currently have it.
Oregon initially intended to allow people to enroll in its Medicaid program by using the same online website that allows people to sign up for the state’s insurance exchange, Cover Oregon. But, like other exchange websites across the country, Cover Oregon is currently experiencing some technical glitches. State officials say it will be working by the end of the month. Until then, they’re allowing Medicaid enrollees to bypass it with the fast-track system.
Not every state will see the same kind of dramatic drops in their uninsurance rates, however. Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is optional, and 22 states have refused to participate in it. Most of the resistance is rooted in partisan opposition to the health reform law, and will end up hurting many of the poorest Americans. An estimated five million low-income people won’t be eligible for any type of federal assistance to get coverage under Obamacare because they live in states that won’t expand Medicaid. The political fight over Medicaid is expected to widen the gulf between what are already the healthiest and sickest states in the country.