Public health — Troubles with Cover Oregon online exchange has led to the need for people to apply for coverage via paper applications

The difficulties with this year’s rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the law commonly known as Obamacare) are no secret. The problems with the law’s new online health-care exchanges have been particularly numerous, and the local version of the online marketplace — dubbed Cover Oregon — has not been immune.

If you ask Jason John, manager of the Newberg branch of Hagan Hamilton Insurance Services, for advice, he’ll give you two words: Don’t wait.

That is, if you’re looking for health coverage that will kick in by Jan. 1, don’t wait for the Cover Oregon website to be fully functioning.

“I think a lot of people are sitting back and thinking, ‘Somebody with the state of Oregon will come and tell me something at some point,’” he said. “But we’re really up against the deadline for a January effective start date.”

The Cover Oregon website is semi-functional, but it has been unable to effectively enroll applicants in tax credits and subsidies for which they should be eligible — resulting in inaccurate calculations of monthly premiums. Instead, Cover Oregon — the brick-and-mortar state agency that is up and running — has hired new staff and resorted to accepting and processing paper applications for coverage.

Paper applications are available on www.cover; John’s agency is also providing copies, as well as offering completely free consultations to anyone looking for a little extra guidance in navigating the murky waters of health care reform.

“It can be really confusing, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” John said. “We just want to get answers to our community and help anyone who’s interested in knowing what’s going on and what they need to do.”

John said the applications for individuals are 19 pages long, and may take up to 45 days to be processed by Cover Oregon. Once the applications are processed, eligibility information and plan selection forms will be mailed to applicants, he said.

He said that those who are under group plans, like through an employer, should receive information on any changes from the managers of their plans. However, he recommended that individuals — even those who had not planned on changing their coverage — should consider the new options that may be available to them.

“It’s worth looking at, just to see what’s out there, because the market is changing so much,” he said. “What you have might not be the best plan for you anymore.”

Hagan Hamilton maintains a website with information on Cover Oregon and the Affordable Care Act at Hagan Hamilton is a Cover Oregon-certified agent, which means its agents have undergone additional training on the changes entailed by the health care reform law.

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