• Cover Oregon to exit ... what next?

    Insurance agents in need of answers
  • While state officials still have some explaining to do to the federal government for Oregon's failed health insurance exchange, Xenia Totten is among the scores of agents expecting to shepherd clients through another maze.
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  • While state officials still have some explaining to do to the federal government for Oregon's failed health insurance exchange, Xenia Totten is among the scores of agents expecting to shepherd clients through another maze.
    Oregon this week became the first state to drop its enrollment website — Cover Oregon — for HealthCare.gov, the federal version of the health care exchange.
    "The Cover Oregon people told us (Thursday) we were going to piggyback onto HealthCare.gov, because Cover Oregon wasn't fixable or feasible," Totten said.
    Prior to the news, the United Risk Solutions agent had been scrambling to get last-minute applicants signed up ahead of the April 30 deadline.
    "At last count, I had personally signed up 323 people for health insurance through the Cover Oregon portal," Totten said. "My next priority is finding out what happens to those 300-plus people, along with my Medicare clients."
    She said Thursday's webinar was less enlightening than she anticipated.
    "It was a one-way street pretty much because they didn't take any questions," Totten said. "They didn't get into how it will impact people and now we have to deal with the repercussions."
    Cover Oregon announced during the webinar that five of the 16 insurance carriers linked to its system — Providence Health Plan, ATRIO Health Plans, Trillium Community Health Plan, the Oregon Health Co-op and Health Republic — lack compatible links to the federal system.
    Michael Cox, a spokesman for Cover Oregon, said the exchange is still taking applications through next Wednesday. All enrollees, however, will have to re-enroll in November.
    Insurance agents who were Cover Oregon-certified will have to re-certify with the federal system.
    "We're done for the most part getting people enrolled," Totten said. "But if an individual has income issues, they're supposed to let us know within 30 days so the tax credit can be adjusted."
    She said one contractor took a job and had to redetermine monthly income and the monthly tax credit to be taken off his premium.
    "And that's all being done on paper," she said.
    "Trust me," Totten said. "I don't want to send paper anywhere anymore, it just gets sucked into a big hole."
    Ed Colson, an agent with Ashland Insurance Agency for the past six years and a 30-year industry veteran, found it somewhat ironic that Cover Oregon pulled the plug.
    "Lots of the early enrollments were still tied up in the system," Colson said. "Later on, as things started to smooth out, the people who delayed found it quite easy to get enrolled."
    Colson has found the overall response "a mixed bag."
    "Some people walk out of the office so happy, with tax credits and insurance they couldn't get before because of pre-existing conditions," he said. "Others with high deductibles who didn't qualify for tax credits were the ones hurt by this and they paid a lot more."
    Colson isn't necessarily looking to re-enroll clients in the federal system come November.
    "This isn't the primary thing I do," he said. "But it's certainly diverted most of my time the last few months. The whole concept of re-enrolling is an expensive thing."
    The state of Oregon received $305 million in federal grants to implement its health insurance exchange. Converting to the federal system will cost an estimated $4 million to $6 million.
    State Rep. Sal Esquivel of Medford said the early support many legislators gave four years ago faded as Cover Oregon took shape prior to becoming state law.
    "A lot of us initially voted for Cover Oregon to see what it looked like," the fifth-term Republican said. "Once we understood what it was, that changed. As it was, we went out and threw a bunch of money in the street, money that could've been used for education, infrastructure and highways. It's a shame."
    Oregon was one of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that had its own site.
    "I don't know if (HealthCare.gov) is going to be any worse or better," Esquivel said. "We hired a bunch of people to get it together, shape (Cover Oregon) up. I think it has been so widely criticized for so long that people came to the conclusion it's not going to be a success, so therefore let's move on."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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