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  • Our View: The secret life of an oversight committee

    Two years of closed meetings another embarrassment for Cover Oregon
  • With the Cover Oregon website still not fully functional six months after it was supposed to allow the public to purchase health insurance online, it's hard to believe the troubled state agency could embarrass itself any further. But it managed that last week, when news reports revealed a legislative oversight committee had been meeting for nearly two years behind closed doors.
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  • With the Cover Oregon website still not fully functional six months after it was supposed to allow the public to purchase health insurance online, it's hard to believe the troubled state agency could embarrass itself any further. But it managed that last week, when news reports revealed a legislative oversight committee had been meeting for nearly two years behind closed doors.
    The law that established Cover Oregon also created the committee, directing that four legislators — two Democrats and two Republicans — be appointed to meet with Cover Oregon staff and provide "advice to and legislative oversight of the corporation during the implementation of the corporation and the exchange."
    The lawmakers were duly appointed, and the committee proceeded to meet monthly starting in May 2012. In all, the committee has met at least 23 times, the Statesman Journal reported, but no public notices were issued, no minutes were kept and news reporters were not invited.
    Last week, when reporters who had learned of the meetings tried to attend, Cover Oregon staff refused to allow one reporter to enter the meeting room and physically removed another.
    Cover Oregon officials said the sessions were staff meetings, which can be private under state public meetings laws, and the legislators were merely invited to attend. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats said the committee did not answer to the Legislature, and it was up to Cover Oregon whether to make the meetings public.
    That's exactly backwards. Oregon's public meetings law says meetings of government bodies — such as advisory committees — are presumed to be open to the public unless they fall under one of several specific exemptions. It is the responsibility of the entity conducting the meeting to justify why it should not be public — not to simply close the doors.
    The public image of Cover Oregon as a collection of incompetent buffoons could hardly get any worse.
    The state has spent more than $134 million in federal money for a website that still does not allow a user to complete the sign-up process for health insurance in one sitting. Two weeks ago, a scathing outside review of Cover Oregon revealed poor communication, personality conflicts and slipshod management of the state's insurance exchange dating back to May 2012 — the same time the "oversight committee" began meeting.
    It's clear, in retrospect, that the committee performed no oversight. Lawmakers appointed to it were under the impression the committee's role was just to receive briefings. In fact, status reports that might have alerted the lawmakers to problems with the development of the website were never given to them.
    If news reporters were notified of the meetings and attended them from the beginning, is it possible they might have asked why the committee wasn't receiving quality assurance reports, prompting the legislators to demand more accountability from Cover Oregon?
    It's impossible to know for sure. But one thing we do know: Oversight is much easier to accomplish in the light of day.
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