Sunday, October 20, 2013

White House: Obamacare 'Great News'—56,000 Added to Medicaid in Oregon

    In light of the beating the Obama administration is taking over the ignominious launch of the Obamacare insurance marketplaces, it makes sense that the White House would be looking for good news to share.  The White House Twitter account attempted to provide a boost Thursday with the following:
    On the surface, the news sounds promising.  But those who click through to the OregonLive article might draw a different conclusion.  Here is an excerpt from the story [emphasis added]:
Though the Oregon's health insurance exchange is not yet up and running, the number of uninsured is already dropping thanks to new fast-track enrollment for the Oregon Health Plan. 
The low-income, Medicaid-funded program has already signed up 56,000 new people, cutting the state's number of uninsured by 10 percent, according to Oregon Health Authority officials. 
Though the new exchange called Cover Oregon was originally intended to be used for Oregon Health Plan enrollment, the online marketplace doesn't work yet. Instead, new Oregon Health Plan members are being enrolled using a fast-track process that was approved by the federal government in August. 
Since late September the Oregon Health Authority sent out notices to 260,000 people already enrolled in the state's food stamps program since late October. 
The notices informed them that based on their income reported to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, they are pre-qualified for the Oregon Health Plan in 2014. Most of them are newly eligible thanks to the state's decision to expand the program's income caps under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 
To enroll, all they have to do is make a phone call or send a form consenting to be enrolled. So far, 56,000 people have done that, coming on top of more than 600,000 already enrolled. 
Under the new Oregon Health Plan income eligibility rules, in 2014 individuals must earn 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less to qualify, as compared to the 100 percent cutoff this year. The new cap means monthly income of $1,322 for an individual,$1,784 for a household of two, $2,247 for a household of three, and $2,704 for a family of four. 
Another change likely to boost enrollment: under new rules mandated by the federal health law, savings or property is no longer a bar to membership; application is now based strictly on income for the month in which someone applies. 
Many of the new enrollees are likely to have pent-up health needs. A survey of 38,000 people on the Oregon Health Plan waiting list in 2012 found 11 percent had diabetes, 8 percent heart problems, 30 percent high blood pressure, 22 percent high cholesterol and 5 percent cancer...
    What it boils down to is this: About 56,000 persons already on food stamps in Oregon have been added to Medicaid; many of them are in poor health, and some could have significant savings and property or had a single month of low income, but qualify anyway.  And all they must do is respond via phone call or consent form to be covered; no is application needed, which is a good thing, because the online marketplace doesn’t work anyway.  So the "number of Oregonians without health insurance dropped 10% in 2 weeks," true enough.  But none of them will actually be paying premiums in the new Obamacare insurance system.
    This is what passes for good news in the age of Obamacare.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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