by Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
As Oregon reels from a failed launch of the state’s health care exchange website, people demand answers.
Despite getting an early start and extra funds from the federal government, Oregon has yet to enroll a single person in the health exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Now everyone from Oregonians seeking insurance to lawmakers both for and against the law want to know what’s going on.
“My belief is that Oregonians need to hold people accountable for the actions that they make. And for this particular plan, it’s President Obama and essentially every Democrat who voted for it. And in the state of Oregon it’s Gov. John Kitzhaber who is responsible for its implementation,” Oregon state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told Northwest Watchdog. ”He (Kitzhaber) needs to explain why, as an early adopter with additional funds that other states didn’t get, that we’re dead last in sign ups.”
Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority have hired and reassigned more than 400 workers to help process paper applications because the website is not working — and hasn’t worked properly since its launch Oct. 1. Despite millions of dollars spent on ambiguous TV and other ads, the Oregon exchange is failing.
Kitzhaber held a press conference earlier this month announcing additional help to process paper applications.
“This is about more than a website,” he said in a press release. “This is about making sure that every Oregonian who wants health insurance coverage is able to get it.”
Oregon lawmakers, including Knopp, who serves on a Senate health care committee, will hear an update from Cover Oregon officials Wednesday during Legislative Days, three days of committee meetings to prepare for next year’s session. Knopp said Oregonians want to know when they can sign up.
“Clearly, this has been a debacle in terms of the launch of a program,” he said.
Even Democrats who supported the law are calling for action.
“The implementation of Oregon’s health insurance marketplace has been abysmal,” U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat representing the fifth district, said in a statement. “The current situation is completely unacceptable, and I expect much more from a state with a reputation for being an innovator in the field of health care.”
He called for Cover Oregon and the computer technology company Oracle, which the state has contracted with, to fix the problems.
“Catastrophic technical failures, insufficient forethought and the complete absence of effective leadership and accountability at Oracle and Cover Oregon have resulted in our state being ranked dead last in enrolling folks in new health insurance plans, which is the heart and lifeblood of the health care law and the only way Oregonians are going to receive better, more affordable care,” he said in the statement.
Some Oregon lawmakers say they saw this coming.
State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said in his recent newsletter that progress reports by Cover Oregon leading up to the launch showed the site wasn’t ready, but it was pushed to launch anyway. Richardson, who is running for governor, said he warned Kitzhaber and lawmakers last year the site wouldn’t work.
“Cover Oregon’s inadequacies were identified regularly and its catastrophic failure was fully anticipated,” he said. “With proper leadership, planning and execution, Oregon’s expensive Obamacare disaster could have been avoided.”
The Oregon House Interim Committee on Health Care and the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services will meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Salem to hear an update from Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King and Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority.
Contact Shelby Sebens at ssebens@Watchdog.org
Northwest Watchdog is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity