Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon defended Obamacare's record in his state, despite months of turmoil for the Oregon health insurance exchange that has ended in closing the exchange and prompted a federal investigation. One recent poll found 51 percent of Oregonians disapprove of Obamacare. Merkley, a Democrat who voted for Obamacare and is up for reelection this year, was asked by THE WEEKLY STANDARD to defend the law given its poor reception in his state.
"Well there’s a lot that’s going right in Oregon, and maybe you’re not familiar with that," Merkley said. "Oregon has over 300,000 people who have gained access to health care."
Merkley then pointed to an aide next to him, saying, "You can follow up for a lot more information."
A follow-up email to the aide has not yet been returned.
Merkley's number of 300,000 doesn't quite add up. According to figures released by Cover Oregon on May 1, a total of 251,240 people have enrolled in health plans. A majority of those--more than 177,000--signed up for Oregon Health Care, the state's Medicaid program. Cover Oregon reports around 74,000 people signed up for private plans, but the "net" amount after cancellations and terminations is lower at 69,586. Additionally, a net of 13,729 Oregonians also signed up for dental plans.
A number Merkley didn't mention in his brief defense of the law was the cost of Obamacare in Oregon. Around $303 million in federal taxpayer money was used to build Cover Oregon's troubled website, and the state itself spent $130 million, including money spent on a whimsical ad campaign. Jeffrey Dorfman at Forbes calculates that the federal government spent around $4,756 per person enrolled in a private health plan via Cover Oregon, and that's not including that 177,000 new Medicaid enrollees.
Merkley has a reason to push a rosier assessment of Obamacare in Oregon. He's currently in a closer race for reelection than previously though, with one poll even showing him trailing slightly behind a potential Republican challenger, Monica Wehby.
Update: Merkley press secretary Martina McLennan responds via email, noting the discrepancy in the numbers of enrollees is made up in an additional 130,000 enrollees through Medicaid:
There are an additional 130,000 Oregonians who have received Medicaid coverage through a “Fast Track” process. Those Oregonians, who have also gained health care through health care reform, are not included in the Cover Oregon numbers. The 130,000 plus the more than 251,000 who have enrolled through Cover Oregon combine for a total of around 380,000.