Governor downplays problems with Cover Oregon website

PORTLAND — Gov. John Kitzhaber downplayed the problems that have plagued Oregon's health insurance exchange and urged people who need insurance by Jan. 1 to fill out a paper application instead of waiting for online enrollment to work.

The state should be judged on whether people who want insurance are able to sign up, not whether the website works, the governor said.

Nobody has been able to enroll in health insurance through Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange, because software glitches have prevented the website from accurately determining whether people qualify for federal subsidies or publicly funded health care through Medicaid. There is no timetable for when the website will be fully operational.

"We're not going to let the problems with the website interfere with our objective of making sure that every Oregonian that wants to be enrolled with a qualified plan by Jan. 1 is in fact enrolled," Kitzhaber told reporters in a news conference today.

Still, approval of the exchange was a signature accomplishment for Kitzhaber in the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. It was billed as a one-stop-shop for people seeking insurance, a place where they could easily compare plans, find out whether they qualify for subsidies and sign up.

State officials are now urging people to fill out a 19-page form, either on paper on in a fillable PDF online. They'll have to be processed by hand. The paper-based process, which could take weeks, far longer than the online system that was supposed to allow people to sign up in as little as an hour.

Cover Oregon has hired temporary staff to help with the extra work, and employees of other state agencies also will be temporarily assigned to help Cover Oregon process applications for insurance.

The governor touted success in enrolling the people who will become eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program. He said 70,000 people receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program have used a fast-track process to sign up for the Oregon Health Plan.

— Associated Press

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