Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past month, you know that the rollout of the new health insurance exchange websites — both nationally and in Oregon — have been somewhat less than smooth. No, strike that — they've been a disaster.
Critics of the national health care reform law would like you to conclude that the entire system now being created is therefore doomed to failure. But one does not necessarily lead to the other.
Make no mistake, the national website is a huge disappointment to anyone who tries to use it to sign up for coverage. The Cover Oregon website isn't working either, although the state site was built much more quickly than the federal one.
But there is no excuse for those failures, and the sites must be fixed and fixed as quickly as possible. People must enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage to start Jan. 1.
In the meantime, Oregonians should sign up anyway by filing applications on paper, and by using the network of trained assisters ready to help people sign up for coverage.
Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday announced the state is hiring 100 people to process paper applications, and pledged that those who need insurance will get it starting on Jan. 1 if they apply by Dec. 15.
Only those Oregonians without insurance or with a personal policy that doesn't meet federal standards under the new law need to apply. People who are insured through their employer will continue to be covered, as will those on Medicare.
Low-income residents who qualify can get coverage through the Oregon Health Plan, which is expanding thanks to federal subsidies. In contrast to the problems with Cover Oregon, the Oregon Health Plan has enrolled 70,000 people already under a fast-track system for those already enrolled in other assistance programs such as food stamps.
It's also important to understand that horror stories about people's insurance being canceled are just that: stories, used by critics to convince people that the entire health care reform law is doomed to failure. In fact, the only policies being canceled are those sold on the individual market — accounting for about 5 percent of all Americans — and only those that don't provide the minimum levels of coverage required under the federal law.
Holders of those policies will be able to obtain qualifying coverage through Cover Oregon, and many will be eligible for financial assistance to pay the premiums.
The only way to find out of you qualify, however, is to apply. The Cover Oregon website isn't yet able to process applications, but people can use it to download application forms and mail them in.
Go to www.coveroregon.com for more information, or call Cover Oregon at 855-268-3767 for help.