Discussion between legislators and Cover Oregon expected to be heated

CoverOregonExpect sharp questions from Oregon’s lawmakers when Cover Oregon, the state’s health insurance exchange, goes before the House and Senate healthcare committees this afternoon during a three-day interim meeting of the state legislature starting today.

The healthcare committees will hear testimony updating legislators on a variety of health reform topics, including the progress of the state’s coordinated care organizations (CCOs), and the development of legislation that will be introduced during the Legislature’s upcoming session in February.

Once thought to be at the forefront of insurance exchanges in the country, Cover Oregon’s software is plagued by so many glitches that people are unable to enroll online. Cover Oregon has resorted to enrolling people via paper applications.

The meeting could easily turn into political theater. The chair of House’s health committee, Representative Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) has been an ardent supporter of the insurance exchange, but never shies from asking pointed questions. And when the legislation creating the exchange was first being debated, Republican members of the committee were skeptical, if not completely unsupportive. A Republican member of the committee, Representative Jason Conger (R-Bend), recently announced that he is challenging Democratic Senator Jeff Merkeley, and he may use the exchange’s struggles to echo national criticisms of the Affordable Care Act.

When Cover Oregon’s board of directors met last week, the tone was grim and of consternation that the exchange is so dysfunctional Rocky King, Cover Oregon’s executive director reported that 19,000 applications had been received, but a single individual still had not been enrolled into a health plan.

Tom Budnar, Vice President for North American Government consulting for Oracle, the company contracting with Cover Oregon to build the software, told the board it should be completely functional by December 1.

“The areas that are left are most complex,” said Aaron Karjala, Cover Oregon’s chief operating officer. “The site is not architecturally broken. It’s not a huge list of things.”

Dr. George Brown, a board member and CEO of Legacy Health, had pointed questions for Budnar. It is not the first time Oracle has missed a deadline, and until the website is functional, Cover Oregon is withholding five percent of the money it is paying to Oracle.

“As deadlines come and are missed, the credibility in actually being able to deliver a system continues to be eroded. It’s gets to a point where there’s no trust and belief in the words that are spoken,” Brown said.

“We are not at all happy with the fact that the schedule has slipped,” Budnar said.

Toward the end of the meeting, motions were passed instructing Cover Oregon to outline a contingency plan for enrolling as many people as possible by mid-December, and to specifically outlining which parts of the software are not working, and when the website will launch.

Both reports are expected to be delivered to the board by the end of this week.