PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's health exchange and insurance carriers are looking at extending deadlines to allow more people to get coverage starting Jan. 1, Cover Oregon's acting director said Thursday.
The news came two days after Bruce Goldberg and Gov. John Kitzhaber acknowledged that, despite earlier promises, thousands of people who applied for coverage by a Dec. 4 deadline would not be insured by January because the state wouldn't have enough time to process their applications.
The exchange's online portal has yet to enroll anyone, and the state is relying on paper applications and manual reviews to sign people up.
Goldberg said he's working with regulators and insurers to push back the Sunday deadline for people to select a plan after the state has informed them of their options.
State officials estimate there are about 32,000 people whose applications have not had a first-level review, in which the state determines whether they're qualified for the publicly funded Oregon Health Plan or for tax credits to offset insurance premiums. After the first-level review, the state gives applicants who qualify for private insurance their options.
Goldberg told the Cover Oregon governing board that he's not sure what the new deadline would be, but he hopes there will be enough time to get through "the vast majority" of applications submitted in time for January coverage.
Goldberg also told the board that he's hired a private law firm to look into Cover Oregon's options to hold technology contractors accountable for problems delaying the launch of the online enrollment system by at least four months. He did not name specific contractors, but state officials have publicly and privately laid much of the blame on Oracle. The company has a lucrative contract to provide hardware, software and consulting services for the insurance exchange and a related computer modernization project for the state human services agencies.
"It's only prudent that we get the best expertise," Goldberg said.
Emails obtained by The Oregonian show a growing sentiment among state and other officials that Oracle is at the root of the exchange's struggles and a strong effort to put political pressure on the company.
According to the emails, Oracle continued to tell Cover Oregon that it could deliver the website up until the weekend before the exchange should have gone live on Oct. 1. Subsequent deadlines also were missed.
Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger declined to comment on the missed deadlines, and Oracle has declined numerous interview requests by The Associated Press.
The emails also show that the governor, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader called Oracle's top executives in October and November to demand that the company deliver the exchange it had promised.
John Cvetko, a quality assurance contractor hired by Cover Oregon, warned in a November email that implementing meaningful control over Oracle wouldn't be easy.
Cover Oregon "will need assistance riding herd over Oracle," he said.
Despite the private emails, top state officials declined to lay the blame on Oracle — or anyone else.
"To say that Oracle is the problem would not be accurate," Cover Oregon's chief information officer, Aaron Karjala, told The Associated Press. "There's a lot of challenges that we're looking to overcome, we have a lot of management in place, and we're closely partnered with Oracle."
All Cover Oregon advertising is scheduled to stop on Monday, Chief Communications Officer Amy Fauver said.