Rocky King Faces Barrage of Criticism All Day at Legislature

rocky_kingYesterday wasn’t an easy day for Rocky King.

The executive director of Oregon’s health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, went before three legislative committees during the Oregon Legislature’s interim meetings this week to explain why Cover Oregon hasn’t been able to enroll a single individual since open enrollment began on October 1, and why its website, managed by the IT company Oracle, is completely dysfunctional.

It was capped by a 75-minute meeting with the combined House and Senate house health care committees. Numerous members expressed frustration, while a chastised King spent much of his presentation time reminding legislators that some aspects of the exchange do work—such as people’s ability to go onto to the website and browse insurance plans. “I wish I was here with better news,” he said.

Representative John Lively (D-Springfield) questioned whether Cover Oregon can have any credibility with consumers going forward. “Up until the day you launched, people were assured it was going to work,” he said.

“I don’t think I anticipated the kinds of problems we started seeing in September,” King said. “There was a lot of uncertainty. I did not do a good job [of expecting that].”

King told lawmakers that Cover Oregon now has a firm schedule of when the website will launch: December 9 for insurance agents and community partners to help people sign up for insurance, and December 16 will be when the website will be fully operational and individuals will be able to browse plans.

Even so, King is not assuming Oracle, the IT company building the software, will stick to those deadlines. “Anytime that they said there was a commitment that it would work, that hasn’t been made,” he said. “I’m moving forward and building contingencies into my budget.”

He faced sharp questions from lawmakers. Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City) commented that the legislature should have a special session to look more deeply at Cover Oregon’s difficulties. And when King reported that over 70,000 people had been enrolled in Medicaid through Cover Oregon’s “fast track” process, Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) said that it was irrelevant.

“It has nothing to do with the success or failure of Cover Oregon,” Conger said. “It would be a bad joke for the state to deploy a large-scale IT project, but this is impacting people’s lives.”

Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) encouraged King to hold as many application fairs—where insurance agents are helping people fill out paper applications—as possible, and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), the chair of the Senate’s healthcare committee, stressed the importance of Cover Oregon becoming operational. “The system before Cover Oregon was broken.”

The chair of the House’s healthcare committee, Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) is usually one of the sharpest-tongued legislators when it comes to holding the healthcare industry accountable to consumers. But he struck a conciliatory tone with King yesterday.

“I think we need to have patience. This too shall pass,” he said. Then, with a note of gleeful sarcasm toward King, “I hope you enjoyed your day.”

King told the legislators that Cover Oregon will announce its first enrollments at the end of November.