MEDFORD – The troubled rollout of Cover Oregon drew calls for action on several fronts last week.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and other national legislative leaders asked for a federal probe into the problem-plagued health exchange.
“The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability,” he and three other Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a Feb. 12 letter to the General Accountability Office.
The letter noted the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has had problems at both federal and state levels, but “no state has had more complications than Oregon.”
The letter also was signed by Reps. Fred Upton, Energy and Commerce Committee chair; Tim Murphy, chair of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations; and Joseph Pitts, chair of the subcommittee on health.
The letter asked the GAO to look into how Oregon used some $304 million in federal grants for the creation of the Cover Oregon website, and whether the federal government can recoup that money if Oregon abandons the website and state-run exchange.
The letter also asks about additional costs incurred by the Cover Oregon website failure and what steps should be taken to ensure proper monitoring of such projects in the future.
Walden announced the request for an investigation at a press conference last week in Medford. He was accompanied by state Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican who is running in the primary for the nod to challenge Gov. John Kitzhaber.
According to oregonlive.com, Walden rebuffed the suggestion that Thursday’s event was set to promote Richardson in his campaign for governor, calling that “baloney.”
Richardson has been vocal in his criticism of the handling of Cover Oregon, and two weeks ago did his own survey asking Oregonians if a GAO audit is warranted. The survey drew 5,000 responses.
Richardson lauded Walden’s effort, and said citizens “deserve to know the cause of the failure of Cover Oregon, the extent of any cover-up, and what can be done to protect taxpayers from a similar waste of their money in the future.”
Critics say those troubles stemmed from a host of ills including the state’s choice of contractor Oracle to develop the site, faulty testing procedures, poor management and oversight by top officials, and a proliferation of bugs in the programming.
The Cover Oregon website was supposed to be ready to enroll people for health care four months ago, but the state shifted to manual enrollment when the site didn’t work. Officials say nearly 34,000 Oregonians have enrolled for private insurance plans through January, despite the lack of an online service.
State House Democrats are pushing two bills intended to remedy some of the unexpected consequences. House Bill 4154 would help people access subsidies, if eligible. Some enrollees who skirted the exchange because of its problems and applied directly to insurers have since found that route cut them off from the breaks promised by the health care act.
The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means last week.
House Bill 4122 would require reviews of all large public IT contracts, an effort to prevent a repeat of the Cover Oregon website failure. That bill goes next to the House floor.