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Cover Oregon website may not work, but you can apply


Governor Kitzhaber has announced increased efforts to boost enrollment

On Oct. 1, Cover Oregon proudly announced open enrollment for the state’s first-ever health insurance exchange.

However, at the time of that announcement, the website that was supposed to help people enroll for the exchange was not yet working.

Cover Oregon officials said they expected to repair the glitches and launch the website soon, but now, more than a month has passed and the website remains under construction. Consequently, the program is currently relying on paper applications.

“We encourage Oregonians to get started now with an electronic or paper application,” said Howard King, executive director for Cover Oregon. “Even with our current online system challenges, we will make sure that no one gets left behind.”

Locally, the Crook County Health Department has been providing people assistance with their paper applications for the insurance exchange. Since Oct. 1, only about 10 people have shown up for help, although health department has seen similar reactions to other new programs.

“Everything always starts slow,” said Jennifer Chaney, Cover Oregon program supervisor that the health department.

Fellow health department employee Emma Reynolds, who serves as the program coordinator for Cover Oregon, believes the lack of a working website has left the impression that there is no way to enroll.

“I think the misconception is we can't do it because the website is not working, but we can still do it with the paper application because it still gets you in there (the Cover Oregon system),” she said. “The sooner you get in, the sooner you will be processed. So it's better to do the paper application now.”

Although the paper application will help enroll people while the website gets fixed, the process will not move as quickly as it would online.

“When they do the website and it actually works, they will do their application right then and get a popup that tells them exactly what they qualify for,” Chaney said. “Now, they don’t get that. They fill out the application, we fax it for them, and they get contacted by either Medicaid or Cover Oregon.”

Cover Oregon must respond in no more than 45 days, although Chaney said that recent applicants are probably looking at a two- or three-week response time.

Enrollment concerns have prompted Gov. John Kitzhaber to recently announce “additional efforts to boost enrollment.” He has asked the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Insurance Division, and the Department of Administrative Services to help process paper applications.

“This is about more than a website,” he said. “This is about making sure that every Oregonian who wants health insurance coverage is able to get it.”

So far, about 17,000 people have applied statewide and Cover Oregon is currently processing those applications. Enrollment is open until March 31, 2014; however, those who want their coverage to take effect on Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15.

“The Cover Oregon technical team is working hard to make sure the site works for everyone,” King said. “In the meantime, we have a system in place to enroll all Oregonians who want coverage. We know many Oregonians have been waiting months, or even years, for health insurance, and we'll do whatever it takes to make sure everyone who applies by Dec. 15 has coverage beginning Jan. 1.”