You know your state’s ObamaCare exchange is in deep trouble when jettisoning it in favor of the federal exchange is considered an improvement. Yet that is precisely what Oregon — whose Cover Oregon exchange, once touted as a model for other states, is now, in the words of The Hill, “one of the worst in the country” — has decided to do.
It’s not hard to understand why. The Beaver State received $304 million in federal grants, including $48 million for being an “early innovator,” and has spent about $250 million trying to get its website working to no avail. Oregon’s website, notes the Washington Post, “has been the country’s only one to fail so spectacularly that no resident has been able to sign up for coverage online since it opened early last fall.”
Given the choice between spending another $80 million in an effort to finally get the website functioning or about $5 million to turn things over to the federal government and Healthcare.gov — which, unlike Oregon’s website, has actually been whipped into some semblance of shape since its equally disastrous launch — Cover Oregon’s board made the sensible decision to do the latter.
“Of course we’re very disappointed,” board member Dr. George Brown told Kaiser Health News. “People have worked very hard to make this work. And I think there’s been significant success if you look at the numbers of people who’ve been enrolled both through the qualified health plan as well as Medicaid.”
Indeed, it is amazing that Cover Oregon has managed to enroll about 240,000 people in health coverage — roughly 70 percent of them in Medicaid — despite the complete failure of its website. Good, old-fashioned manual effort, involving human navigators, pens, and paper, made the difference.
Kaiser attributes the website disaster to two main factors. First, “the state wanted a website that could enroll everyone from individuals to businesses owners, Medicaid recipients and even children.” Second, “the contract Cover Oregon drew up with the software giant Oracle to build the site didn’t link payment with producing a working website.” Thus, as with Healthcare.gov, “officials have blamed the contractor primarily responsible for the website” (as The Hill put it), rather than politicians’ grandiose dreams, for the debacle.
The website isn’t the only problem plaguing Cover Oregon. The exchange has gone through three executive directors in the last five months. It spent $10 million on promotional ads by local musicians. It enrolled nearly 4,000 illegal immigrants in full health coverage, contrary to federal law. And current and former Cover Oregon employees told Portland’s KATU there was other chicanery afoot: Workers were encouraged “to push applications through at all costs, while at times doing little to protect taxpayer money or privacy,” and applications from state officials were given priority over those from the people who pay their salaries.
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