Why Oregon’s uninsured rate plummeted this year

Portland Business Journal
September 18, 2014

By Elizabeth Hayes

The number of uninsured Oregonians plummeted this year to just 5 percent of the population — a drop of 63 percent, mostly driven by the huge Medicaid expansion.

The number of uninsured Oregonians in June 2013 was 550,000, or 14 percent of the population. A year later, it fell to 202,000, or 5 percent, according to researchers from Oregon Health & Science University and the Oregon Health Authority.

The study’s goal was to estimate how the number of uninsured individuals changed as a result of reforms in the Affordable Care Act, which mandated coverage for individuals, expanded Medicaid and forbade insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

“It’s pretty exciting news,” said Peter Graven, health economist with the Center for Health Systems Effectiveness at OHSU and lead study author.

Graven said the numbers are based not on surveys but on enrollment data from commercial and public sources, providing a comprehensive look at the state’s population.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which polled 27,000 people during the first quarter of the year, found 13 percent were uninsured, the lowest level since 1997.

The national uninsured number may be even lower, since more than 30 percent of the 8 million who enrolled in private health plans across the U.S. signed up in March or later.

In Oregon, the drop in the uninsured level reflects the fact that the state led the nation in percentage increase in Medicaid. The Oregon Health Plan went from 613,782 last June to 975,717 this June.

The Oregon Health Plan extended coverage to many previously ineligible adults with income less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The state used a “fast track” enrollment system, recruiting participants through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and parents of children enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan. In addition, the Cover Oregon/OHA outreach team trained over 2,300 people statewide, resulting in over 1,350 active assisters within 330 organizations.

"A lot of people worked very hard to make this happen, including the community partners and agents around the state who were on the front lines getting people enrolled in coverage,” said OHA spokeswoman Patty Wentz.

As far as the 202,000 uninsured, not much is known about who they are. Some are likely undocumented immigrants.

“An uninsured rate of 5 percent would represent tremendous progress,” said Janet Bauer, policy analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “Oregon can certainly continue to improve and should. The work certainly is not finished. Covering everyone is a public health goal and quality of life goal.”

On the commercial side, Cover Oregon helped make up for a 16 percent drop in directly purchased individual insurance and a 2.5 percent drop in group insurance. In all, 76,569 people signed up for private plans through the glitch-ridden health exchange.

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