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Cover Oregon board pulls plug on its website

Oregonians will now sign up through the federal website


Just seven months after the fanfare-laden launch of Cover Oregon, board members have decided to pull the plug on its website.

The board voted on Friday to drop the troubled site due to ongoing problems that have significantly slowed the enrollment process. Oregon will now rely on HealthCare.gov for private insurance policies.

The failure of the website has been criticized by several elected officials over the past few months, and even prompted U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and other House leaders to request an investigation by the General Accountability Office.

Walden noted that the Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research received a $1 million state planning grant from the federal government to develop the health insurance exchange model. Since then, Oregon has been granted an additional $304 million in federal dollars to build, test, and operate the marketplace.

Following the decision to ditch the website, Walden issued a statement calling for a public explanation of its failure in light of the amount of money provided.

"Today, the same board that oversaw the colossal waste at Cover Oregon voted to throw in the towel, and taxpayers are left stuck with the bill," he said. "The board should explain further to the taxpayers of Oregon and the nation how exactly this massive failure happened."

Oregon Rep. Mike McLane, the House Republican Leader, also issued a statement on Friday, calling the decision an "incredibly embarrassing moment for the state of Oregon."

"This failure is the result of a complete lack of leadership," he said.

While state lawmakers did not call for an investigation of Cover Oregon, they did pass legislation intended to correct the problems caused by the troubled website and prevent future technical issues.

House Bill 4154 was created on the basis that thousands of Oregonians signed up for health insurance by going around the exchange to private insurers. As a result, under federal law, they are no longer eligible for the subsidies provided under the exchange. The bill would direct the Cover Oregon board to seek a federal waiver to allow those Oregonians to access the subsidies they are due.

House Bill 4122 requires an independent quality assurance review for all public IT contracts exceeding $5 million, and other public IT contracts that meet specific requirements. The legislation also requires that reports are sent to people who can review them promptly and do something about any problems identified.

On Friday, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) announced that the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Legislative Audits, Information Management and Technology will hold a hearing to examine the decision to discontinue the website. The hearing is scheduled for May 6.

“This committee is best positioned to get the answers Oregonians deserve and push Cover Oregon to be prepared for upcoming milestones,” Kotek said. “Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians now have access to quality medical care thanks to Cover Oregon and the Affordable Care Act. We need to make sure Oregonians continue to have access to the health care they need.”

Locally, Kim Kibble, the Cover Oregon agent for Farmers Insurance, is left unsure of what changes current customers can expect. On Friday afternoon, shortly after the board voted, she spent an hour on the phone with Cover Oregon staff and didn’t learn anything from them about the future of the exchange.

“They didn’t even know about it yet,” she said.

Kibble said she has talked with some customers who have expressed concerns about the demise of the website, but she could not provide them any answers.

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” she said.



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