Oregon Healthcare Exchange Struggles to Stay Afloat

Image: Oregon Healthcare Exchange Struggles to Stay Afloat Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber

Friday, 21 Mar 2014 07:51 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The Oregon health exchange, once a pioneer for Obamacare's state marketplaces, is struggling to survive.

According to The New York Times, Cover Oregon is one of the most dysfunctional online insurance exchanges in the country. It has been plagued by technical problems so severe that almost all of the 50,000 people who signed up for insurance through the exchange did so using paper applications or with help from a professional.

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, an early champion of Obamacare, released a report Thursday that outlined the systematic failures of the website's technology built by Oracle Corp. and also highlighted how state managers overlooked or minimized repeated warnings that the system they commissioned was too complex.

"Bad news needs to flow up quicker than any other kind of news—it's true here, it's true in the emergency room," Kitzhaber, a former doctor, said at a news conference where he released the report.

He said he had talked to federal officials about whether federal penalties could be reduced for people who had not been able to enroll. He is also considering whether to abandon the website and instead adopt HealthCare.gov or another state's exchange, according to the Times.

Kitzhaber has made healthcare a central issue during his three terms as governor, and said he expects the failures of Cover Oregon to become a campaign issue as he seeks to win a fourth term in November.

"There's a lot of frustration and anger out there, and there should be," he said.

At the same time, Kitzhaber said he believes more general attacks on Obamacare expected to be deployed by Republicans will fall flat in Oregon due to its strong Democratic base.

Kitzhaber's challenger, GOP state Rep. Dennis Richardson, said the report showed that the governor was "disengaged" and he believes Kitzhaber should have accepted more responsibility for the system's breakdown, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, the state also has the nation's lowest rate of enrollment of young people, tied at the bottom with West Virginia, according to the Times, which is a problem given that youth enrollment underpins the financial viability of the healthcare law.

The problems for Cover Oregon look set to continue. The federal Government Accountability Office has announced it will investigate how federal money was spent in building the Oregon exchange, several top executives have resigned recently, and legal action is being considered against Oracle, the Times reported.

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