Cover Oregon alleges site progress

Rocky King, Executive Director of Cover Oregon, announces opening day of the health exchange in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Cover Oregon begins offering services today.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Rocky King, Executive Director of Cover Oregon, announces opening day of the health exchange in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Cover Oregon begins offering services today.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Cover Oregon has reportedly made headway in its quest allow people to enroll online through the state’s troubled $304 million health insurance exchange.

Since launching Oct. 1, Cover Oregon has yet to enroll a single person online, and all applications are being processed manually by hundreds of temporary workers. On Tuesday, however, Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox told KOIN in an email that the website’s developers released upgrades to the “partner portal” that paves the way for insurance agents and community organizations to enroll online.

“This means we have made progress with the technology,” Cox wrote in the email. “Agents and community partners can do an entire enrollment, in most cases, without any manual assistance from Cover Oregon staff.”

Cox said it was too early to confirm whether the public could actually begin online enrollment.

“As is commonly the case with upgrades, there will be areas that don’t function as well as they will in future upgrades. Our top goal is enrollments and we believe this new functionality will improve the enrollment process.”

The embattled agency has come under severe criticism in recent days. Last week, Republican lawmakers called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate how the $304 million in federal funds that was provided to Cover Oregon have been spent. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden questioned whether an estimated $100 million of that funding – which has not yet been spent – can be salvaged.

State lawmakers have also questioned whether the agency will be able to run self-sufficiently when the federal funding ends, or whether it should be shut down.

Governor John Kitzhaber has admitted mistakes, but has claimed he was misled about Cover Oregon’s issues prior to its launch. Officials have pointed the blame at tech giant Oracle, which designed the website. Last month, the state signed a contract with payment processing company First Data to do an independent assessment of the Cover Oregon rollout.

According to numbers provided by Cox Tuesday, 102,000 people had enrolled through Cover Oregon to date. Of that, only 35,000 were in private insurance and  67,000 in the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s Medicaid program. Another 123,000 were fast-tracked into Medicaid, bypassing Cover Oregon completely.

The agency has had major leadership struggles. Its first executive direct, Rocky King, took medical leave Dec. 2, and then announced his resignation Jan. 1. Carolyn Lawson, the OHA chief information officer who oversaw most of the exchange’s initial development, resigned Dec. 19.

The agency has spent $4 million on the additional personnel to process manual applications. The manual process has been cumbersome, with several instances in which an application has been sent to the wrong address. Furthermore, many of the handwritten applications have errors, requiring staff to follow up with applicants, which further delays their processing.

In theory, the site is supposed to provide a marketplace through which individuals and small businesses can compare insurance plans and check whether they qualify for federal tax credit subsidies.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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