State Turns Low-Tech to Enroll 56,000 In Expanded Medicaid Program Since Oct. 1

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By Paul Shukovsky  

Oct. 23 --Despite having a troubled electronic exchange that has yet to enroll anyone for health insurance because of technological challenges, Oregon has successfully turned to the U.S. Postal Service, paper forms and a telephone call center to enroll 56,000 people in Medicaid since the beginning of October.

The Oregon Health Authority in August received a waiver from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that allows OHA to use what it is calling “fast-track enrollment” for the Oregon Health Plan, Communications Director Patty Wentz told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 23. She said the waiver allows OHA to enroll about 75 percent of those eligible for expanded Medicaid without them filing an application. “They are already in our system because they are receiving SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] or they have children in Healthy Kids [Oregon's Medicaid program for children],” she said

“That means they have already gone through an application [process],” Wentz said. “There's no reason for them to have to do that again.” Wentz said the state would have sought the fast-track waiver even if the Cover Oregon exchange website had been problem-free. “In Oregon, we have a real drive for efficiency. We would have done this no matter what.”

In his weekly message Oct. 18, OHA Director Bruce Goldberg said the 56,000 people represent “about 10 percent of the uninsured population in our state, and new responses come in every day.”

Obama Cites Oregon

President Barack Obama, in Oct. 21 remarks, cited Oregon's example saying: “In states where governors and legislatures have wisely allowed it, the Affordable Care Act provides the opportunity for many Americans to get covered under Medicaid for the first time. So in Oregon, for example, that's helped cut the number of uninsured people by 10 percent just in the last three weeks. Think about that. That's 56,000 more Americans who now have health care. That doesn't depend on a website.”

Letters containing a terse consent form began going out Sept. 26 to the approximately 260,000 people in Oregon who have already been screened for Medicaid as a result of receiving SNAP benefits or having children in the Healthy Kids program, according to the Oregon Health Plan website. To enroll, all the potential beneficiaries have to do is fill out and mail back the form or call an 800 number. Some 230,000 people are eligible by virtue of receiving SNAP benefits and 30,000 as a result of having children covered by Healthy Kids, the website says.

Ariane Holm, spokeswoman for the Cover Oregon exchange, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 23 that there are other alternatives for applying for insurance through the exchange than by using its website. “We are encouraging Oregonians to do use the tools that are available right now. That includes a paper application that they can either download from our website or they can get from a community partner or an insurance agent. They can submit the application either electronically or through the mail. We are doing a manual workaround to process those applications.”

She said exchange officials aim to have the Cover Oregon website up and running for applications by the end of October. Enrollment numbers will be made available in November, she said.


To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Shukovsky in Seattle at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nancy Simmons at

To access the Oregon Health Plan website, go to

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