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The other side of Obamacare’s Oregon success: No one has bought private insurance


Yesterday I wrote about Oregon's big success signing people up for Obamacare: The state had, in the course of 17 days, signed up 56,000 people for the health law's Medicaid expansion. In one fell swoop, the state had cut its uninsured rate by 10 percent.

That is, however, only part of the story from Oregon. When it comes to private insurance, spokeswoman Amy Fauver said that it has not yet had any sign-ups.

"While we wish we were in a different place with our technology, we're implementing the contingencies we need to make sure no Oregonians get left behind," she said.

Cover Oregon decided Sept. 30, the day before the marketplace went live, that the software it uses to determine who qualifies for financial aid was coming up with too many errors to go live. It decided instead that it would process applications manually. Those applications have begun filtering in and determinations will likely go out later this month.

"They'll start hearing from us in the next week or two what about what their next step is," Fauver said. "We have staff trained to do that determination."

However, Fauver said that no Oregon health plan has received an enrollment through the marketplace. She declined to comment on the number of applications submitted to the marketplace, saying her department is "still working through the data to to arrive at a number we can stand by." It's possible that some of the applications could be incomplete, or represent multiple people. Cover Oregon doesn't know because they're still pending manual processing.

Oregon initially projected that 7,000 people would sign up for private coverage this month. Fauver wouldn't say whether that number still seems reasonable, with 12 days left to go in the month.

"It's too soon to say," she said. "We're working with our developers around the clock to get this fixed. We're not where we want to be, but we think we'll be able to get there soon."

How could so many people sign up for the Medicaid expansion, and not a single person enroll in private insurance? It mostly has to do with how simple the Medicaid sign-up was: The state sent out notices to about 260,000 people who already receive public benefits and were below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, the cut-off for the Medicaid expansion.

To enroll, they simply had to call a phone number or return a form to the state.

"It simplified the process and that made a huge dent," Fauver said. "We're extremely thrilled about that, and expect the number to go up in coming weeks."