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Originally published Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM

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As GOP grumbles, many more now insured

Obamacare may have already brought the biggest increase in health coverage in this state in 50 years.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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Last week when the government announced it would give anyone who has started an Obamacare application a few more weeks to finish them, that was the last straw for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane.

“When does this get ridiculous?” she heckled, calling the delay another travesty in an unworkable law that continues to “hit people where it hurts the most.”

OK, it wasn’t really her last straw. For Republicans, that came years ago. But it’s a sign of how pitched the fight over Obamacare still is that a move to help a few more people sign up for health insurance can trigger that kind of condemnation.

McMorris Rodgers is head of the House GOP conference and so she sends out regular news releases like that. None of them mention that more than 50,000 people in her own district have signed up for this dreaded Obamacare.

In fact, despite all the problems — the botched rollout, the computer glitches, the furor over some canceled policies — Obamacare may have already brought the biggest increase in health coverage in this state since the 1960s, when the Medicaid program for the poor first passed.

Statewide, about 375,000 people have insurance due to this law. That’s the net gain, counting those who had their policies “canceled” last winter (most simply signed up for a new one with their same company).

The Medicaid program in the state has grown 25 percent since October, from 1.2 million to 1.5 million.

“We didn’t expect an expansion anywhere near that magnitude,” said Nathan Johnson, policy director at the state health authority. “It’s been a good surprise. A lot of these folks have gone their entire lives without medical coverage.”

The private individual insurance market has also grown, by 19 percent, from 272,000 plans last October to 325,000 today. These figures include plans sold on the state exchange and directly by companies.

Whether that’s big enough to be stable and affordable remains to be seen. But before Obamacare it was shrinking.

Plus the state says there are 32,000 young adults on their parents’ policies due to the new law.

The state doesn’t know how many of these people were previously uninsured. But most newly on Medicaid probably were. It means the law has made a big dent in the state’s uninsured population of 1 million — reducing it possibly 25 percent or more, already.

One of the uninsured was Scotty Robertson, a 57-year-old cabinet maker from Bothell who has bladder cancer. Two years ago he lost his workplace insurance. Treatments put him $12,000 in debt, and the cancer also made it tough to buy new insurance — he had a pre-existing condition.

“I was plain stuck,” he says.

Not anymore. On Jan. 1, one of those countless Obamacare rules went into effect. It says insurance companies can no longer refuse adult customers, of any age, due to a pre-existing condition. Nor can they use a sickness to jack up the price.

Call it the Scotty Robertson rule. For the first time in years, he could get health insurance. It’s costing him $178 a month for a bronze plan that is about half-subsidized by the government.

“It’s not the greatest, and they sure didn’t make it easy to sign up,” he said. “But man, I’m glad I got it. I wish I’d had it a year ago.”

I know there are negative anecdotes to counter this positive one — they are trotted out constantly by McMorris Rodgers and other critics. And it’s true Obamacare is so complex the unforeseen consequences due to this rule or that rule are probably just beginning.

But my argument is that it’s worth all this upheaval. We know there are hundreds of thousands like Scotty Robertson in this state. There are tens of thousands in McMorris Rodgers’ own district. Yet she and other Republicans ignore that historic shift in the lives of some of their own constituents to catcall from the sidelines about a trivial two-week delay.

When does this get ridiculous? Something already is.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com



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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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