Policy: Technology

Technology group to decide Cover Oregon's future

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Associated Press,Obamacare,Oregon,Health Care,Technology

PORTLAND, Ore. — After weeks of deliberation, a committee is poised to make a final recommendation Thursday on what to do with Oregon's botched health insurance exchange portal.

The technology committee will decide whether Cover Oregon should ditch its glitch-filled website and replace it with the federal government's health insurance marketplace, or try to fix the existing system with the help of a new IT contractor.

The decision comes nearly seven months after Oregon's exchange was supposed to go live so that residents could use it to compare and buy health insurance plans. Cover Oregon's website is seen as the worst of the more than a dozen state-developed exchanges; Oregon was the only state to receive a monthlong enrollment extension.

With a week left to enroll, Oregonians still can't use Cover Oregon's portal to sign up for coverage in one sitting, despite an early start building the site and millions of dollars from the federal government.

Instead, the general public must use a costly, time-consuming, hybrid paper-online process to sign up for insurance.

A Cover Oregon contractor estimated the least expensive option for salvaging Cover Oregon's website would be to replace it with the federally run marketplace, at a cost of $4 million to $6 million.

Fixing Cover Oregon's existing system with the help of a new technology contractor would cost $25.5 million in development and maintenance costs just this year — not counting 2015 costs, according to the estimates.

It's unclear whether the state or the federal government will pay for the expense.

Earlier this month, Maryland — another state with a glitch-filled exchange site — chose to revamp its exchange by using technology that has proved successful in Connecticut.

The Cover Oregon technology committee has rejected that option, with officials saying transferring technology from another state would be too expensive and take too long.

So far, about 240,000 Oregonians have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon. More than 69,000 of those enrolled in private health plans, while 171,000 enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid.

An independent investigation ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber found state managers repeatedly failed to heed reports about technical problems that prevented the exchange from launching. It also found that Cover Oregon's main technology contractor, Oracle Corp., did a shoddy job in building the exchange. Four Oregon officials connected to the portal's development have resigned.

Cover Oregon has paid $134 million in federal funding to Oracle and has spent another nearly $7 million on the paper processing efforts.

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