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Poor planning is to blame for healthcare website woes

Since work began on a healthcare system for all Americans, supporters touted the idea of health insurance exchange as the way to provide affordable insurance in a competitive marketplace.

We admit the idea sounded pretty good. Grouping insurance companies together under one roof, so to speak, so that people could pick and choose coverage would likely help them save some money.

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, and as it turns out, now that the deadline to carry coverage is less than two months away, Cover Oregon and other state-based insurance exchanges are struggling to enroll people as efficiently as they had hoped.

The Cover Oregon program launched on Oct. 1 amid fanfare that it will revolutionize the way people access healthcare. One problem – the website that provides convenient enrollment and access to all of these health insurance companies, doesn’t work. Consequently they have had to turn to paper applications.

This does not preclude people from enrolling, but it has slowed the process down. It was concerning enough that Gov. John Kitzhaber felt compelled to announce plans to bolster enrollment last week.

Locally, about 10 people have gone to the Crook County Health Department to apply. Their staff admits that reaction to new programs always starts slowly, but with Cover Oregon, news that the website doesn’t work has left people assuming there is no way to enroll at all.

As it turns out, Oregon is not the only state facing this problem. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, joined other senators in a meeting with President Obama about the rollout of other insurance exchanges. He did not leave in a good mood.

“I am very frustrated with the rollout of the exchanges,” he said in a statement. “The dysfunction and delays are unacceptable.”

We can’t really blame him for feeling this way. This is not just a matter of inconvenience. The clock is ticking. Oregonians have until Dec. 15 – less than five weeks – to enroll in order for their coverage to be effective by Jan. 1. The penalty for not carrying insurance in 2014 -- a 1 percent tax on the person’s yearly income or a $95 fee per person, whichever is higher.

Cover Oregon estimated that about 17,000 people had enrolled as of the beginning of November. According to Oregon Health Authority data, about 550,000 people were uninsured as of September 2013. That leaves a 533,000-person gap. That is an incredibly tall order to meet in five weeks using paper applications.

We feel that state governments and officials at the federal level really dropped the ball on this one. Insurance exchanges have been discussed since federal healthcare plans emerged four years ago. We understand that developing a website is not a perfect science – there are inevitably bugs to work out – but why wasn’t this all fixed before launching exchanges? Why were people left with this mess with only a few weeks left?

We hope that Cover Oregon and other exchanges fix the websites in short order. We would further urge the federal government to reconsider the tax on not carrying insurance. As things currently stand, it could take quite a while to get coverage, and people shouldn’t be penalized because the government dropped the ball.



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