Cover Oregon Bill Passes Out of House Committee

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland

Legislation aimed at rectifying some of the problems with Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange passed unanimously out of the House Committee on Health Care this afternoon.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, had barely reconvened the committee after a short recess when he asked for a motion to include an amendment to HB 4154 that has gained the most political support over the last few days.

The amendment, which was adopted, allows the governor to remove any member of Cover Oregon’s board of directors, but limits the governor to removing no more than three members within a four-year period “except for corrupt conduct in office.” The original bill would have given the governor the authority to remove the entire board.

The amendment also instructs the Oregon Health Authority to request federal approval to allow people to receive tax subsidies even if they had “the assistance of an insurance producer,” and allows individuals to qualify for coverage even if they weren’t enrolled during the open enrollment period.

HB 4154, sponsored by Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, also extends whistleblower protections to Cover Oregon employees, allows the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool to continue operating through March 31, and instructs Cover Oregon to pursue a federal waiver to extend the open enrollment period through April 31.

The committee did not hear testimony on the bill, and Greenlick said the amendment would be the only one he would allow to become part of HB 4154.

Despite that, the committee’s Republican members made a last-ditch effort to include five more amendments. One would have required Cover Oregon to make public its financial records and audits and another would have allowed Oregon’s Secretary of State to immediately begin a financial audit of the exchange.

Other amendments would have required Cover Oregon’s executive director to provide an updated business plan and demographic information to the House and Senate healthcare committees. Another would have shut down Cover Oregon and directed the governor to request a federal waiver to allow people to buy insurance directing from insurance carriers and still qualify for premium subsidies that are currently available only through the exchange.

“We haven’t gotten a straight answer out of [Cover Oregon] when they came before us, every time,” Rep. Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, explained.  The amendments “would bring some accountability to the process,” he said.

But each motion to include the additional amendments failed on party lines.  Greenlick said some of the amendments were filed late and that some didn’t need to be in statute.

“They were serious amendments that are an attempt to improve this process,” he said. “We’re all worried about it.”

“From the discussion on the amendments, we have a lot of disagreement and unhappiness over where we are on this bill,” said Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas. “There’s a lot of politics being played.”

But in the end, committee members voted unanimously to send the bill to the Ways and Means Committee’s “tender mercies,” as Greenlick put it.