OR: Legislators Resist Turning Cover Oregon Bill into Political Football, For Now

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas

The bill containing most of the proposed fixes related to Cover Oregon had its first hearing in the House’s Health Care Committee yesterday, and legislators continued to have numerous questions as they tried to focus on finding pragmatic solutions.

House Bill 4154, sponsored by Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, would extend whistleblower protections to Cover Oregon employees, require Cover Oregon to seek federal approval for extending the open enrollment deadline to April 30, give the governor the ability to fire Cover Oregon’s board of directors, and extend the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool.

Prefacing the discussion, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, chair of the House healthcare committee, urged his colleagues to focus.

“This is an important bill,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of time to read up on Cover Oregon and figure out who’s at fault. This is not what we’re doing here. Let’s keep our discussion, as much as possible, relevant to this bill.”

Numerous legislators had concerns about the waiver to extend open enrollment and wondered how similar the request is to conversations Governor John Kitzhaber’s staff is currently having with federal officials.

Tina Edlund, the Oregon Health Authority’s acting director, said those discussions had just begun, and didn’t provide more information. Fagan said if the legislature shows support via legislation, “we’ll get those waivers.”

Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, was present at the hearing, although he is not a member of the health care committee. But he is running against Kitzhaber and has made it clear he wants Cover Oregon to be a campaign issue.

He plans to introduce an amendment to shut down Cover Oregon and have people enroll through the federal exchange. “We’re spending more money to duplicate what is working elsewhere. It’s good after bad. Cover Oregon is destined to be shut down,” he said.

“I’m certainly open to amendments,” Fagan responded. “[But] I don’t want this bill to get bogged down in the obvious politics around this issue. As it stands right now, this is something we can all agree on.”

Greenlick said amendments will have to be drafted by Friday. A work session to move the bill out of committee is scheduled for Monday.

Before then, legislators asked Cover Oregon officials to provide demographic data of enrollees—which still has not become public—as well as estimates regarding how many enrollees Cover Oregon needs to be financially self-sufficient and how much enrollment will increase between now and April 30.

As of last week, 31,664 people had enrolled in private insurance, and another 57,858 into Medicaid through Cover Oregon’s paper application process.