Oregon ranks last in health insurance sign-ups

Dr. Bruce Goldberg, acting head of Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange, prepares for a news conference on Dec. 10 at Cover Oregon's headquarters in Durham, Ore.
  • Just 44 Oregon residents selected insurance on the state%27s exchange in the first two months.
  • The tally doesn%27t include the nearly 100%2C000 Oregonians who are newly signed up for Medicaid.
  • State officials say the state%27s website has vastly improved this month.
  • WASHINGTON — Oregon was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Affordable Care Act and jumped at the chance to set up its own online exchange for uninsured people to shop for health coverage.

    But Cover Oregon’s rollout has been widely panned. Oregonians can’t enroll in coverage they find on the website. They can learn about the plans and comparison shop, but unlike Americans elsewhere they must fill out old-fashioned paper applications to sign up for the policies they like.

    Cover Oregon’s problems are highlighted by the state’s dismal enrollment data for October and November contained in a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Though the site has vastly improved since then and the Obama administration’s numbers tell only part of Oregon’s enrollment story, the HHS report said just 44 residents signed up for private insurance through Cover Oregon from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.

    Oregon was dead last among all states, according to that count. But the tally doesn’t include the nearly 100,000 Oregonians who’ve newly signed up for Medicaid.

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    The 44 enrollments reported by HHS make up about 1.2 percent of the 364,682 Americans who selected policies on state and federal exchanges in the past two months. North Dakota had the second-lowest enrollment in that period — 265. California led the nation with 107,087 enrollments.

    Michael Cox, spokesman for Cover Oregon, didn’t dispute the federal tally.

    He pointed to the state’s own tally, which shows 9,949 people had enrolled as of Tuesday — 9,219 in Medicaid and 730 in private plans. That means 686 people have enrolled in private plans they learned about on Cover Oregon so far this month.

    “We’re getting more every day,” he said in an interview. “Those commercial enrollments are going to catch up.”.

    Oregon has a separate process for signing people up for Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income people and the disabled that was expanded under the Affordable Care Act.

    Using a “fast-track” process, under which pre-screened residents can sign up without having to visit the Cover Oregon site, the state has enrolled 90,000 residents in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, according to Judy Mohr Peterson, Medicaid director at the Oregon Health Authority.

    Further complicating matters, Oregonians can also sign up for Medicaid through the Cover Oregon’s paper-application process if they are found eligible. Since Oct. 1, 9,219 people had signed up for Cover Oregon that way.

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    “You may have heard about our technical difficulties,” Cox said in an interview. “The complexity of our system associated with Medicaid enrollment is one of the reasons we’re behind.”.

    Oregon is one of 14 states that set up their own exchanges. Though the federal exchange and most state marketplaces have had technical glitches, no site has been as problematic as Cover Oregon. Exchanges are required under the Affordable Care Act.

    Americans have until Dec. 23 to select insurance and be covered by Jan. 1, and until March 31 to enroll in insurance and avoid paying a fine for being without health insurance.

    The enrollment period began Oct. 1, but the rollout of the federal and state exchanges was riddled with technical glitches, outages and slowdowns that eroded the public’s confidence in the Affordable Care Act and in President Obama.

    During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged the enrollment process could have gone better.

    “There’s no doubt that the problems with the website put a damper on some people’s enthusiasm,” she said. “I think the launch was flawed and failed and frustrating for millions of people.”.

    Officials say the federal site can now handle 50,000 people at a time and at least 800,000 a day.