Cover Oregon Debacle!

You Newsslinger readers who reside in Oregon may wish to disregard this particular essay, sick as you surely are of hearing about the Cover Oregon debacle. I invite you to check back in a couple days for my next piece, in which I will surely return to providing the GOP with constructive criticism and excoriating our Constitution-flouting president. Those of you who are detractors of the ACA – that is, almost all of you – can sit back and enjoy my sad tale of the Cover Oregon rollout.

     Cover Oregon is Oregon’s new Obamacare health insurance exchange. Like thirteen other states, Oregon decided to reserve control over their online marketplace themselves. In Oregon’s case the results were astonishingly deplorable. How deplorable? The rollout of Cover Oregon made the rollout of healthcare.gov look like a surgical strike.

     The federal government labeled Oregon and three other states “early innovators,” giving them federal subsidies in exchange for establishing a model for health insurance exchanges that other states could use as a template and as an example of excellence. However, almost four months after the Cover Oregon went live,  no one has yet signed up for health insurance through the online exchange.

     In case you were not paying attention, that’s zero people.

     How much did this cost? 160 million dollars. That’s enough to buy everyone in Oregon $41 worth of drugstore supplies like cough medicine and Q-tips. This would have been a much better use of taxpayer money on the part of state and federal officials. You want to relieve me of $41 and then buy me shampoo and generic Motrin with it? Why not? It’s better than dumping it down a toxic sinkhole of binary code.

     Once it became obvious in late December that the website would not be fixed before the January 1st deadline for insurance coverage in the new year, the State of Oregon hired 500 additional workers to help them process enrollments manually, and ever since then is it sadly acknowledged by state bureaucrats that a paper application is the only way to apply for insurance from Cover  Oregon. As of this date, about 65,000 people have enrolled in insurance through Cover Oregon, with 23,000 of those Oregonians purchasing private health care plans. The other 43,000 enrolled in Oregon’s version of Medicaid, known as the Oregon Health Plan. This means that there are at least 23,000 fools living here besides the governor (see below, and below that).

     That’s a lot of applications. All in all, so far it has cost about $4 million to hire people to process the paper applications. At least they have jobs. That is government for you in a nutshell, dear readers: create an expensive problem and then spend money subsidizing people to fix it. (Apparently federal contract employees are getting a raise in their minimum wage. Now taxpayers can pay even more to provide dishwashers and janitors for troops during foreign adventures.)

     Many Oregonians here blame Oracle, the software company who designed the software for the Cover Oregon website. Others blamed Cover Oregon’s director Rocky King, who recently resigned for personal reasons. So did Carolyn Lawson, the Oregon Health Care Authority’s chief information officer.

     What’s worse is that this was all predicted by observers long before the Cover Oregon site went live – since November of 2011, for crying out loud. As is well documented in the press here, since that time a number of different independent analysts challenged the project’s ineffective management and their assertions that the site would indeed be ready by the 1st of October, 2013. Project leaders were so seduced by their own vision, so intent on being good little early innovators, that they had no Plan B! State officials threw their hands in the air, where they remain to this day.

     Governor Kitzhaber is running for re-election. This long-serving apologist for big government was a champion of the Cover Oregon health care exchange; whether its failure thus far is a political liability so far remains to be seen. What is evident, however, is the frequency with which politcal good intentions only serve to metastasize existing problems. Cover Oregon is the worst health care exchange in the country. It may cost in excess of 200 million dollars by the time it is abandoned in favor of integrating the state with healthcare.gov. It’s created more government bureaucrats to deal with paperwork. It may never enroll anyone online.

     Here is a footnote with some hard numbers, in case you hadn’t heard: a friend of mine recently filed for health insurance through Cover Oregon with a paper application. He is a non-smoker in his late thirties making around 26,000 a year. According to him the cheaper plans the exchange offers through HMO’s like Kaiser Permanente – the so called Bronze and Silver plans – have shockingly high deductibles and other deficits but would still cost him upwards of $150 a month, even after the federal credit of $33. A so-called gold plan with a much lower deductible and better services is around $250 a month. The choice for him is between a useless, mid-priced product that costs 7% of his annual income, and a more jazzed-up and expensive product that would cost him more than 11% of the same. And the choice is mandatory. The fines are minimal now, but in a few years they will be significant, and you still won’t be able to enroll in Cover Oregon online.

     They’re still debating what to do with Cover Oregon. It’s like they’re trying to resurrect a dead horse. Bury it and move on, I say. Better to be a late innovator than not at all, right?

Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor