OR: Gov. Kitzhaber and Goldberg Emphasize Enrollment Numbers, vow accountability

cover oregonOregon governor John Kitzhaber and Cover Oregon’s acting executive director, Dr. Bruce Goldberg, held a press conference today announcing Cover Oregon’s final enrollment numbers and the next steps for the troubled health insurance exchange and its website.

170,000 Oregonians signed up for health insurance through Cover Oregon; approximately 55,000 people signed up for private insurance, and 115,000 joined the Oregon Health Plan (the state’s Medicaid program) through a “fast-track” process.

Oregon, Kitzhaber said, had reduced its rate of uninsured people by 26 percent—a significant achievement, he said, despite the fact that Cover Oregon’s website is completely dysfunctional and unable to enroll people. “We have not let barriers become blockades,” he said.

At the press conference, Kitzhaber emphatically said that Cover Oregon has not be a failure, saying that “it’s important to differentiate between the organization and the website.” Approximately 20,000 paper applications were sent back to potential enrollees, because of mistakes or missing information, and Kitzhaber said that Cover Oregon will continue working to enroll people until open enrollment ends on March 31.

“The enrollment process is not stopping and we’re not waiting,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber also announced that Oregon will contract with First Data, which will conduct an independent assessment of Cover Oregon’s roll out, the problems with Oracle, and make recommendations for how to proceed in the future. “We need an outside independent assessment to look at this, and we’ll follow the appropriate recommendations,” he said.

That could lead to potentially suing Oracle, the IT software company Cover Oregon hired to build its website. Cover Oregon is withholding more than $20 million in payments until the website is operational. Today, Goldberg said that less than 30 software problems remain, and multiple tests are being conducted. Many of the software bugs are related to the website’s ability to enroll people.

“It gets smoother every day,” Goldberg said. “We are working as hard and as quickly as we can to get this resolved.”

Kitzhaber also briefly mentioned changes to Cover Oregon’s management, obliquely referencing Rocky King’s resignation. “We’ve made the appropriate management changes at Cover Oregon, and believe we have the right team,” Kitzhaber said, saying later that King’s health issues had nothing to do with his leadership (and, perhaps, little to do with his permanent resignation).

Both Kitzhaber and Goldberg refused to provide a hard date of when Cover Oregon’s website would be working, although Goldberg said at Cover Oregon’s board meeting later Thursday that he hopes the website will be work before open enrollment ends on March 31. Cover Oregon has hired Deloitte to providing consulting and ensure that the website will be functional.

“We don’t want to repeat what’s happened in the past, where we thought we were, and then it didn’t happen,” Goldberg told Cover Oregon’s board.

As for Cover Oregon’s future with Oracle—Goldberg all put told journalists and Cover Oregon’s board that Cover Oregon will ditch Oracle and find another IT company to build its website, especially if the website isn’t operational in the spring. Goldberg called it “prudent business” to consider alternatives, especially if Cover Oregon “ends up in March without the kind of technology we’d like to have,” Goldberg said.