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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. October 17, 2013

Sheldon Whitehouse, Ted Cruz spar over how many Rhode Islanders signed up for Obamacare

While Republicans and Democrats were still at loggerheads over the federal budget, the shutdown of the federal government and Obamacare, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went on the Oct. 10 edition of CNN's "Crossfire" to debate all three.

When the issue turned to Obamacare -- formally known as the Affordable Care Act -- , Whitehouse talked about how Rhode Islanders were receptive to the program, especially HealthSource RI, the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange.

He cited the case of one family that was so pleased, they returned to the HealthSource RI headquarters with coffee and doughnuts to thank the staff.

At the time, many people were finding it impossible to sign up through exchanges run by other states and the federal government.

That prompted this exchange:

Cruz: "It's interesting that you apparently found a family in Rhode Island that went on the exchanges and got insurance."

Whitehouse: "Thirteen hundred."

Cruz: "It was publicly reported there were 580 in Rhode Island."

We wondered who was correct, Cruz or Whitehouse.

Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson said the senator's 1,300 number came via a phone conversation with HealthSource RI.

We emailed HealthSource RI and asked Dara Chadwick, chief of strategic communications and media relations, how many people had signed up by the end of the day on Oct. 10, when the two senators were giving their numbers.

She responded that 786 applications had been processed as of Oct 5. That's well above Cruz's number but well below Whitehouse's. And it was for the wrong date.

So we asked again.

When we declined to identify the politician we were fact-checking, Chadwick gave us another non-responsive answer.

At that point, we sought help getting the number from the offices of both Whitehouse and Gov. Lincoln Chafee

Meanwhile, we took out our calculator. On Oct. 11, the day after Whitehouse's appearance, the director of HealthSource RI, Christine Ferguson, told The Providence Journal's medical writer, Felice Freyer, that 1,698 applicants had completed their paperwork and selected a health insurance plan.

The two numbers we did have suggested that about 163 applicants were completing the process each day. That means, at the time of the "Crossfire" appearance, roughly 1,467 applicants should have been processed.

A few hours later we heard back from Chadwick. She said that at the end of the day on Oct. 10, 1,479 applications had been completed and processed. When we told her we were checking the Whitehouse appearance, she said the number supplied by HealthSource RI had been the total through Oct. 9, which was 1,313, essentially the number the senator cited.

Our ruling

In a televised debate on the evening of Oct. 10, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said 1,300 applicants in Rhode Island had signed up for insurance through Obamacare; his debate opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, cited a lower number for Rhode Island: 580.

Cruz's statement was clearly False. Five days earlier, the number of processed applications had already hit 786, according to HealthSource RI.

The number at the time "Crossfire" aired was 1,479. If Whitehouse had said his 1,300 number was a day old, we would give him True. But he was off by a day, so he gets a Mostly True.

(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at [email protected]. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)

Our Sources, "Crossfire: Is Congress Nearing a Deal?" Oct. 10, 2013

Interviews and emails, Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman, HealthSource RI, Oct. 16, 2013

Interviews, Seth Larson, spokesman, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Christine Hunsinger, spokeswoman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, both  Oct. 16, 2013

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Sheldon Whitehouse, Ted Cruz spar over how many Rhode Islanders signed up for Obamacare

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