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MailTribune.com
  • Cover Oregon goes under fed microscope

    Government will investigate failed start-up of health exchange
  • The feds say they want to take a look at what's making Cover Oregon sick.
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    • Probing Cover Oregon
      Questions raised by the Republican request for an audit of Cover Oregon, crafted in consultation with the GAO, include:
      • What capability does the federal government have to reclaim those...
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      Probing Cover Oregon
      Questions raised by the Republican request for an audit of Cover Oregon, crafted in consultation with the GAO, include:

      • What capability does the federal government have to reclaim those funds if Oregon abandons the state-run exchange and joins the federal one?
      • What other costs has Oregon incurred because of the website's failure?
      • Did Cover Oregon's status as a state organization play a role in its failure? u What steps could federal agencies have taken to assure state and federal oversight of projects like this in the future.




      The Wyden-Merkley request for an audit asks more questions:

      • How were the federal funds used, including job creation, public and private contractors, software developers, and consumer education?
      • What efforts to enroll people outside the website have been successful, and what can be done to expand enrollment ahead of the March 31 deadline?
      • If taxpayer funds were mismanaged, can the federal government reclaim grant funds from contractors?
      • Was there anything in the Affordable Care Act that Cover Oregon did not respond to in its creation?
      • What can Oregon do to most quickly and efficiently overcome Cover Oregon's problems and enroll more people?
  • The feds say they want to take a look at what's making Cover Oregon sick.
    The U.S. Government Accountability Office announced Wednesday it will probe Oregon's failure to fully launch its federally funded health insurance exchange.
    Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, demanded the GAO audit last month to account for the $304 million in federal money invested in Cover Oregon.
    "The investigation will help taxpayers get answers about what happened at Cover Oregon and the over $300 million that has been allocated to the state," Walden wrote in a prepared statement.
    U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats from Oregon, also had requested an audit of Cover Oregon.
    The GAO sent letters to Walden, Wyden and Merkley on Wednesday saying it would undertake the audit as part of a broader effort to scrutinize the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in various states.
    Merkley said in a statement that he awaited the GAO's recommendations "about how to fix the system and avoid this happening in the future."
    Cover Oregon's website was supposed to launch on Oct. 1, 2013, but it still doesn't work entirely despite efforts by tech giant Oracle.
    Instead of an electronic portal where people can sign up for health insurance, Oregonians have had to fill out paper documents, forcing the state to hire 400 employees to process the applications.
    Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, has been pressuring state officials for answers about the lack of oversight of Cover Oregon, which is this state's version of the Affordable Care Act.
    Almost 5,000 people signed a petition circulated by Richardson calling on the federal government to audit Cover Oregon.
    Richardson, who is running for governor, said many pieces of the Cover Oregon program are still not operating successfully, nor is there an estimate of when it will be up and running.
    "They have no idea because there are so many problems," he said. "We're throwing good money after bad."
    Richardson said other states successfully launched their versions of the Affordable Care Act.
    "We should not continue to spend money for what was duplicated elsewhere," he said.
    Cover Oregon has failed to sign up a large number of people on the private insurance plan, which would help to offset the higher costs of expanding the Oregon Health Plan, Richardson said.
    Michael Cox, spokesman for Cover Oregon, said, "We will participate fully with the GAO and their work."
    He said 124,000 people had signed up through Cover Oregon by March 1. Of those, 39,000 have enrolled in the private insurance plan, while the rest signed up for the Oregon Health Plan.
    The website, however, can be accessed fully only by insurance representatives at this time.
    According to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Oregon has 337,000 residents who could qualify for a private plan under Cover Oregon.
    Cox said Cover Oregon is conducting an alternative analysis to determine how to get the private insurance functionality of the website working.
    Of the $304 million in federal dollars sent to Oregon, about $90 million remain to be spent by the end of 2014.
    Gov. John Kitzhaber, in a prepared statement, said he continues to be angry about problems with the Cover Oregon website.
    Kitzhaber has called for an independent review by First Data to get to the bottom of the problems. Kitzhaber said he will receive a report later this month.
    Despite the problems, Kitzhaber said the state continues to process applications and provide health insurance to Oregonians who previously didn't have any.
    Between Cover Oregon and the earlier expansion of Medicaid, the state has provided more than 252,000 Oregonians with health coverage, the governor's office stated.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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