Oregon’s Big Obamacare Problem

The state’s website failed so miserably, there are nearly 25,000 backlogged paper applications and zero enrollments.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks with reporters as he makes his to the weekly policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Nov. 22, 2013, 12:03 p.m.

The prob­lem-plagued rol­lout of Health­Care.gov promp­ted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Fri­day to an­nounce a delay for when Amer­ic­ans must sign up in or­der to have in­sur­ance cov­er­age be­gin­ning Jan. 1.

But Ore­gon — a state where the web­site failed so miser­ably there are nearly 25,000 back­logged pa­per ap­plic­a­tions and zero en­roll­ments — re­mains si­lent.

Its law­makers in Wash­ing­ton, however, are any­thing but.

“The in­cred­ibly lengthy pa­per ap­plic­a­tions must be filled out and sub­mit­ted by Decem­ber 4th if cus­tom­ers want them pro­cessed in time to meet the Decem­ber 15th dead­line,” wrote Demo­crat­ic Reps. Peter De­Fazio and Kurt Schrader in a let­ter to the state’s in­sur­ance com­mis­sion­er. “Con­sid­er­ing the non-func­tion­ing web­site and the in­ef­fi­ciency of pa­per ap­plic­a­tions, it is evid­ent that Ore­go­ni­ans need more time to buy in­sur­ance.”

The Ore­gon In­sur­ance Di­vi­sion dir­ec­ted ques­tions to the state’s ex­change, Cov­er Ore­gon, and of­fi­cials at Cov­er Ore­gon could not be reached after mul­tiple re­quests for com­ment.

But the let­ter, dated Nov. 21, seeks to ex­tend the dead­line for ap­ply­ing for Jan. 1 cov­er­age through the en­tire month of Decem­ber, which the state could do with the con­sent of the 17 com­pan­ies of­fer­ing plans on the state’s ex­change.

The state was one of a hand­ful that op­ted to al­low in­sur­ance com­pan­ies to ex­tend 2013 health plans through 2014 — re­gard­less of wheth­er they are com­pli­ant with the Af­ford­able Care Act cov­er­age re­quire­ments — keep­ing in line with Pres­id­ent Obama’s “fix” for the mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans who have re­ceived ter­min­a­tion no­tices in an­ti­cip­a­tion of the law’s im­ple­ment­a­tion.

Yet for Ore­go­ni­ans hop­ing for cov­er­age on the law’s new ex­change — and the chance to save money on premi­ums through tax sub­sidies — their fu­ture de­pends on how quickly the state can fix its web­site.

It doesn’t look prom­ising.

Rocky King, dir­ect­or of Cov­er Ore­gon, test­i­fied Wed­nes­day be­fore state law­makers that he was told by Or­acle, the con­tract­or build­ing the on­line ex­change, that it would be ready Dec. 16, one day after the dead­line to sign up for Jan. 1 cov­er­age.

“I’m as­sum­ing it’s not go­ing to work, and I’m put­ting in place all those con­tin­gen­cies I could pos­sibly put in place as if it’s not go­ing to work,” King said.

What those con­tin­gen­cies are, however, is un­clear as the state con­tin­ues to push its pa­per pro­cess.

“Sen­at­or Merkley has said he thinks the dead­line needs to be pushed back past Decem­ber 15 to give people enough time to sign up for cov­er­age,” said Matt McNally, spokes­man for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in an email. “His pref­er­ence would be for that date to be after the first of the year with cov­er­age avail­able ret­ro­act­ively to Janu­ary 1.”

Merkley is also sup­port­ive of ex­tend­ing the open en­roll­ment peri­od bey­ond March. Schrader in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion to delay the in­di­vidu­al man­date pen­al­ties un­til Health­Care.gov and the state-based ex­change sites are cer­ti­fied as “fully op­er­a­tion­al” by the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ in­spect­or gen­er­al.

In the mean­time, thou­sands of Ore­go­ni­ans de­pend on a newly hired force of temp em­ploy­ees to pro­cess each 19-page ap­plic­a­tion in time for Janu­ary cov­er­age.

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