Lawmakers question Cover Oregon on back plans

Cover Oregon interim chief information officer Alex Pettit speaks during an advisory committee meeting in Portland, Ore., Thursday, April 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Cover Oregon interim chief information officer Alex Pettit speaks during an advisory committee meeting in Portland, Ore., Thursday, April 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers on Wednesday urged state officials to look into backup plans in case Cover Oregon isn’t ready to use the federal government’s online health insurance enrollment system before the November deadline.

Officials told House and Senate health care committees Wednesday that consultants are preparing an in-depth analysis of the work that needs to be done to get the website ready by the time the enrollment period begins Nov. 15.

“I don’t think it’s enough for us to tell our constituents that on Nov. 15 everything’s going to work and if it doesn’t we have nothing to point them to,” said Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland.

His comments were echoed later in the day by Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield.

“I need to understand what happens if we don’t meet the milestone,” Lively said.

The state can always use the system it used this year, which required an army of staff to process applications partially by hand, said Clyde Hamstreet, Cover Oregon’s interim director.

“There’s a backup place, it works, it’s proven, it’s there,” Hamstreet said. “Even if the federal system doesn’t work for some reason, we will still be able to process applications.”

The state plans to hire a system integrator to link with the federal enrollment website for private insurance plans and, separately, finish building a state system to manage Medicaid enrollments, said Tina Edlund, the state administrator in charge of overseeing the transition. The decision to forego a system integrator on the original Cover Oregon website was widely blamed for contributing to the site’s failure to launch.

Edlund said she hopes to select a system integrator by June 30 and begin testing by the middle of August.

Cover Oregon consultants estimated the development work for Medicaid and private insurance enrollment will cost $35 million, but the actual cost will depend on the bids. Federal officials have agreed to cover 90 percent.

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