Über fail: Oregon healthcare exchanges fail to enroll anyone

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, November 11, 2013

Turns out the state of Oregon is really struggling to get its act together in advance of the January 1 implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as the Beaver State has yet to enroll a single person in its healthcare exchanges.

Part of the problem is that the state is one of 17 nationwide that opted to created its own healthcare exchange program – Cover Oregon – a program considered to be larger and more complicated than the other state-run exchanges.According to The Associated Press, several Cover Oregon officials and a review of public records suggest that the state may have been too optimistic in their plans for the exchanges and refused to scale back despite warnings from their risk management consultants. It didn’t help either that the same programmers and project managers constructing the site were also working on massive overhauls for the state’s health authority and human services agency websites.

Nonetheless, officials at Cover Oregon claim they’re working hard to finish the site and believe that the features delaying its launch will be worth the wait, despite the fact that there is no set launch date announced. The state has already spent more than $300 million on the exchange.

“We stuck to the vision, and we’re experiencing now the bumps that go along with having a grand vision that doesn’t work out exactly the way you hope it will,” Amy Fauver, chief communications officer for Cover Oregon, told the AP. 

She added that “we’re confident that we will get the system up and running here in the near future” and that it “will be something we can be really proud of.”

Cover Oregon officials blame the delay on the fact that they refuse to release an imperfect product, and that their site has more bells-and-whistles than other states’. There are 11 insurance companies selling plans on the exchange, a far higher number than most states. In addition, the site is still having trouble accurately determining whether people are eligible instead for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program – the Oregon Health Plan and Healthy Kids – because the two programs have complicated eligibility rules.

Other complications with the site, according to the AP, are self-imposed by the state legislature, the governor and the exchange’s own leadership. The state’s exchange uses a program called “no wrong door,” which provides a single portal – in this case, the Cover Oregon website – to sign up for insurance regardless of whether they qualify for commercial insurance or Medicaid. Most other states will make people who qualify for Medicaid go through a separate enrollment process through the state’s Medicaid office.

State officials don’t seem to be that worried about low enrollment numbers as a result of the massive website problems. According to The Hill, the state is currently sorting through the 7,300 paper applications it’s already received, and has enrolled many others into the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Moreover, the state has hadto hire 400 extra workers so it can process the paper applications.

“It is a complex system,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said at a recent news conference according toThe Oregon Herald. “But I think once we get through this initial roll-out phase it’s going to be a real asset for us.”

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