Oregon, a state that fully embraced the Affordable Care Act, is enduring one of the rockiest rollouts of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, with an inoperative online exchange that has yet to enroll a single subscriber, requiring thousands to apply on paper instead.
Unlike most other states, Oregon set an ambitious course to make its insurance exchange, dubbed Cover Oregon, an “all-in-one” website for every individual seeking health coverage, including those who are eligible for Medicaid.
But instead of serving as a national model, Oregon’s experience has emerged as a cautionary tale, inviting comparisons to technical glitches that have plagued other state-run portals and the federal government’s website for those states lacking exchanges of their own.
Oregon’s online exchange has remained inaccessible to the public, requiring the state to sign up applicants the old-fashioned way, using paper forms. This has made comparison shopping more difficult for consumers and severely slowed the enrollment process.
“Oregonians have questions,” said state Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, in a written statement on Tuesday. “What went wrong with the rollout? How are they going to fix it? When are they going to get it right? Is the website contractor doing everything it can? Our people need to know.”
Courtney urged state lawmakers to “ask the hard questions” of officials overseeing the state’s healthcare exchange, and the Oregon Health Authority, at a pair of legislative hearings on the program scheduled for Wednesday.
With its online insurance marketplace out of commission and unavailable to the public indefinitely, the state has resorted to urging would-be subscribers to fill out applications that are between nine and 19 pages long by hand, said Michael Cox, a spokesman for Cover Oregon.
In the meantime, the program has hired about 400 temporary workers to help process those applications before January 1, when the new plans are due to take effect, Cox said.
As part of that effort, staff members from his office are fanning out to hotel conference rooms and other venues across the state over the next week to help prospective enrollees complete the forms, he said.
Nearly 25,000 individuals and families have so far submitted hard-copy applications, Cox said, with nearly two-thirds of those applicants eligible for Medicaid, a federal-state healthcare plan for the needy.
But none of those applicants has actually been enrolled, with manual processing of the paperwork slowing the process dramatically.
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