Panel recommends ditching plagued Oregon health exchange
WASHINGTON — With encouragement from the Obama administration, an Oregon panel recommended Thursday that the state scrap the website for its beleaguered health insurance exchange and use the federal marketplace instead.
State officials concluded that it would be much less expensive to use the federal site, HealthCare.gov, than to repair the one built specially for the state, Cover Oregon. The first option would cost $4 million to $6 million, while the second would cost $78 million, state officials said.
The Oregon exchange — like those in Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts — has been plagued with technical problems that have made it difficult for consumers to enroll online. All four states have Democratic governors who strongly support President Barack Obama’s effort to expand coverage under the 2010 health care law.
The exchange is a keystone of the health care law: a website where consumers can compare private health plans, enroll and obtain subsidies to help defray the cost. Three dozen states are using the federal exchange.
Greg Van Pelt, an adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon, told Congress this month that “the launch of the Affordable Care Act in Oregon has been bumpy,” and that “the website is only partially functioning.”
Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs HealthCare.gov, said Thursday, “We are working with Oregon to ensure that all Oregonians have access to quality, affordable health coverage in 2015.”
The board of the Oregon exchange plans to meet Friday and is expected to approve the recommendation by its technology options work group.
Kitzhaber said he agreed with the panel’s advice. “I think their recommendation to use the federal website technology is the right call,” he said. “It is the most reliable and least costly way to ensure that we have a working website for the next enrollment period.”
For most states, the initial six-month enrollment period ended March 31. But the Obama administration allowed Oregon to extend the application period through April after Kitzhaber said that technology problems had “created delays, confusion, and frustration” for people trying to use the state exchange. The next open enrollment season is scheduled to start Nov. 15 and continue for three months.
Oregon has received $305 million in federal grants to build its exchange, according to the Congressional Research Service.