Oregon’s health insurance exchange program, known as Cover Oregon, will be transferring control to the federal government’s healthcare exchange, known as Obamacare. In November, the next open enrollment period for consumers to enroll on the federal website HealthCare.gov, more than 80,000 people who bought private health care plans through Cover Oregon will be required to re-enroll for their healthcare coverage.
Cover Oregon’s website, which it spent three years and $250 million of taxpayer money to design, failed dramatically in its ability to enroll consumers online. The website was shown by documents to be largely unfinished and ineffective. Oracle Corp., Cover Oregon’s primary technology vendor, built the Cover Oregon website that failed to enroll a single person. However, as the state dropped the botched program, the 80,000 people who attempted to sign up on the website would have had to re-enroll through HealthCare.gov regardless of whether the Cover Oregon website worked.
People who are enrolled with Oregon Health Plan will not need to re-enroll through the federal healthcare exchange website. Oregon Health Plan is the expanded Medicaid program for the state of Oregon, the success of which is largely attributed to current Oregon governor and emergency room doctor John Kitzhaber, then a state senator. In 1993 when the plan was realized, Oregon was hailed as a healthcare reform national leader. The plan signed up 120,000 members in its first year of operation, and dropped bad debts at Portland hospitals by 16 percent.
Now Oregon has been the subject of derision for its botched state healthcare exchange. In the midst of Oregon transferring its healthcare exchange consumers to the federal government’s healthcare, the U.S. attorney’s Portland office issued broad subpoenas to Cover Oregon. The full-blown investigation by federal prosecutors and FBI agents is demanding emails, documents, and memos exchanged between the Oregon Health Authority and Cover Oregon, the state entities that oversaw the healthcare exchange and handled the money dispensed by the federal government.
The transfer to the federal health insurance exchange will not be cheap. The Oregon Health Authority issued an invitation to 10 firms to bid for the job of switching Cover Oregon to the federal program, which is estimated to cost $35 million. Oracle was not invited to bid, as it has been largely blamed by Oregon officials to be the cause of the botched state healthcare exchange.
In fact, Kitzhaber has called on Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to file a lawsuit against Oracle, as the state paid over $130 million directly to Oracle to design the healthcare exchange website. He also asked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to levy appropriate penalties and fines against the technology vendor. Oracle has responded that Oregon created a “false narrative” to scapegoat the company to avoid responsibility in the failure to cover consumers.
Bruce Goldberg, the former director for the Oregon Health Authority, offered his resignation on March 18, made effective two days later by Kitzhaber. However, in another scandalous element to the story, Goldberg is still drawing full-time salary from the state through accrued vacation pay, expiring July 18.
The fiasco of Oregon’s healthcare exchange, which led the state to initiate transference to the federal government recently, is a hot topic in the state’s U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races this year. Kithaber’s gubernatorial opponent, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, who was recently endorsed by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, accused Kitzhaber of “gubernatorial malpractice.” The race between incumbent U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Republican primary victor Monica Wehbly has also turned into a highly publicized event in which Wehbly’s domestic disputes were revealed, causing her to respond with allegations of a smear campaign by Merkley.
By Jesse Eells-Adams