The Oregon Health Plan is John Kitzhaber’s baby. Oregon launched his groundbreaking health plan in 1994 when the state got special waivers from the federal government to change the way it handles Medicaid, the health insurance for the nation’s poorest people.
Under Oregon’s plan, the state limits the services Medicaid pays for, with an emphasis on providing preventive and ongoing medical care. By limiting what services are offered, Oregon was able to expand the number of people who were covered. Kitzhaber came up with the idea and championed it during his years as a state senator and governor.
When the plan launched in 1994, about 350,000 Oregonians were eligible. According to an official history of the plan published by the state, 250,000 already had Medicaid coverage. The expansion added 100,000 Oregonians who, until then, didn’t have health insurance.
Today the health plan covers 523,000 Oregonians. About 20 percent of them wouldn’t be getting health insurance if not for the plan’s expanded Medicaid provisions. But the plan has struggled because of budget constraints and over the years cut back the number of people who are covered.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat now seeking a third term as governor, talks proudly of his plan. On Aug. 15, 2010, in an interview on KQEN AM in Roseburg, he assessed the plan this way:
"The health plan I think in many respects has been a big success. Over 2 million Oregonians have received important medical services because of it."
We wondered about the "2 million" figure in a state that today has a population of 3.8 million.
Campaign spokeswoman Jillian Schoene says the number comes from the Oregon Department of Human Services, which oversees the health plan.
So we checked with the folks at the Oregon Health Plan. Sean Kolmer, the deputy administrator for the health plan’s office of policy and research, says the 2 million includes people who have been enrolled in the health plan at any time since 1994. He points out many people have come into the plan and left it over the years. He says the tally doesn’t double count. "Those are unique individuals," he says.
But the second part of Kitzhaber’s statement doesn’t hold up. Note that Kitzhaber told his radio listeners the 2 million health plan participants got coverage "because of it."
With this cause-and-effect claim, Kitzhaber is saying the 2 million wouldn’t have received "important medical services" if his health plan hadn’t existed.
And that’s not true. The majority of people in the plan would have had coverage under Medicaid anyway, and still would if the plan vanished tomorrow.
How many of the 2 million would have received health coverage if the plan hadn’t existed? We asked the folks at the health plan and, at our request, they did a count.
The answer: Kolmer says that 59 percent of those folks would have received Medicaid coverage anyway. That means 41 percent got coverage because of Kitzhaber’s health plan.
Kitzhaber is indeed the creator of the Oregon Health Plan and -- as the records shows -- he can legitimately claim credit for expanding health coverage to about 820,000 people.
Taking credit for the entire 2 million is a stretch. We find his claim Half True.