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.