Oregon saw one of the largest drops in the nation of the number of people who lacked health coverage last year, new U.S. Census numbers show.

The portion of Oregonians who lacked insurance the entire year dropped to 9.7 percent last year, down from 14.7 percent the year before. That means that, in theory, more people have access to health care.

The Census found that about 383,000 Oregonians were uninsured in 2014, down from 571,000 the year before.

The study is the most authoritative look yet at the effects on enrollment of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded eligibility for the low-income Medicaid program and provided subsidies for private health insurance. Overall, the country saw a historic drop in the number of uninsured of nearly three percentage points.

Oregon’s plunge of nearly five percentage points in uninsured is the fourth-largest in the nation, behind only Kentucky (5.9), Nevada (5.5) and Wyoming (5.4), according to the census. (See full list at end of this post.)

Oregon’s 2014 uninsured rate stood at two points better than the national average of 11.7 percent.

The large drop noted by the census numbers for Oregon generally echo earlier findings. But there are some marked differences. An Oregon Health & Science University study funded by the state found last fall that the uninsured rate had dropped to 5 percent points —about half what the census showed. It found that the number of uninsured dropped by nearly two thirds, nearly twice the margin found by the census.

The Census numbers found that nationally, the biggest gain in enrollment was among those who secured private insurance, followed by an increase in people enrolled in Medicaid.

Things look different in Oregon. While the census report did not provide a state-by-state breakdown of how enrollment changed between different types of insurance, the OHSU study found that the gains in Oregon were largely driven by people enrolling in the state’s version of Medicaid, the Oregon Health Plan. The government-funded program saw its enrollment jump from about 600,000 to more than 1 million.

Peter Graven, the author of the OHSU study, said the federal study used different methods and appears to have undercounted the number of people on Medicaid. The question of which findings were correct “is really hard to know,” he said.

The 2010 federal health law was funded by billions in tax increases, mainly falling on those who earn more than $200,000 a year.

The Oregon gains in coverage might seem surprising in that the state’s $300 million health insurance enrollment website, Cover Oregon, was scrapped by the state last year after officials said it never worked as planned. In addition to processing enrollment using a backup system using hundreds of temps, the state also used a streamlined Medicaid-enrollment system that bypassed the exchange and the standard enrollment process.

The jump in Oregonians accessing Medicaid far exceeded officials’ projections, catching health care providers by surprise.

— Nick Budnick
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@nickbudnick

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