The Cover Oregon Legislation: A Crib Sheet

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas

Two of the Oregon Legislature’s key priorities during the recently adjourned legislative session were to hold Cover Oregon accountable for its failure to enroll people into health insurance online and to prevent such a catastrophic IT failure from happening again. The Legislature passed bills that addressed both concerns.

Negotiations over the measures were largely left to legislators and were among the most politically charged discussions in an otherwise relatively mellow session.

Here’s a rundown of legislative provisions that directly affect Oregon’s troubled insurance exchange:

Federal waivers: Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-Clackamas) sponsored legislation that became known as the “Cover Oregon bill.”  One piece requires Cover Oregon to request that the federal government allow people who enroll in qualified health plans outside the exchange to receive the same premium subsidies and cost reductions given to people who purchase coverage inside the exchange.  That provision became a moot point when the Obama administration announced on Feb. 28 it will extend tax credits to anyone who bought a QHP outside the exchange.

Another provision of Fagan’s bill requires Cover Oregon to request a federal waiver that would extend open enrollment one more month, to the end of April.  With the current deadline of March 31 less than three weeks away, there has been little indication that the Obama administration will provide such an extension.

Whistleblower protections:  Another provision of Fagan’s bill grants whistleblower protections to all Cover Oregon employees.

Cover Oregon’s board:  The bill grants Gov. John Kitzhaber the authority to remove up to three members of Cover Oregon’s board in one year. The bill’s original version would have allowed the entire board to be fired within a year.

Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend

Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend

Legislative hearings:  An amendment pushed by Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, which made its way into a bill regarding diabetes management, requires Cover Oregon’s executive director to go before the House and Senate healthcare committees during interim meetings with an updated business plan, demographic information about individuals enrolled in qualified health plans, the number of individuals paying premiums, and other financial information. It’s information that numerous legislators have asked for on many occasions, but have never received.

Information to be made public:  Another amendment written by Conger requires Cover Oregon to make public “without any undue delay” any independent reviews, investigations and audits related to the exchange.

Temporary Insurance Pool:  A bill sponsored by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, extends Oregon’s high-risk insurance pool for three months in order to provide more time for individuals remaining in the program—estimated between 1,500 and 2,000—to enroll in qualified health plans through the exchange.

Extending non-compliant plans:  An amendment to Courtney’s bill, drafted at the eleventh hour, gives Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services the ability to extend insurance plans non-compliant with the Affordable Care Act through the end of 2015.  Legislators expressed the most concern about this provision, worrying that it will adversely affect the insurance market, risk pools and rates in the next couple years.  It could also affect people’s willingness to enroll in qualified health plans through the exchange.

IT quality assurance: Legislation that requires quality assurance reviews of future IT projects and requires the state’s chief information officer to advise agency staff on IT “trends and resources” also passed this session.