PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon is a progressive state that has enthusiastically embraced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), but its state-based exchange has so far failed to enroll a single person in coverage.
The state has received 18,000 paper applications, and it has resorted to hiring or reassigning 400 people to process the paper applications by hand.
Each of the applications is 19 pages long.
“We’re all surprised and frustrated that we’re in the position that we’re in now,” said Jesse O’Brien, a health care advocate at the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, which lobbied for the exchange.
State officials have not been able to say when they expect the online processing system to launch, nor have they established a deadline to submit paper applications in order for coverage to begin Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, the exchange’s board is demanding answers from Rocky King, the executive director, about when the website will work and how his team will get people enrolled on time.
For consumers, the application process can be long and frustrating.
“I’ve been trying since the very first day of October just to try to find out the coverage I could get,” said Donna George, 43, a bookkeeper from Bend, Ore., who’s been uninsured for three years.
When the online system wouldn’t work, George submitted a paper application Oct. 7 for herself and her husband. Finally, on Nov. 12, she received an enrollment packet that tells her how much of a tax credit she’ll receive and lays out her coverage options. She’s now waiting to meet with her insurance agent to pick a plan and return the forms.
Oregon has long prided itself on being a leader in health policy. Its Medicaid system has been a testing ground for new innovations since the early 1990s. The state started laying the groundwork for an insurance exchange a year before Congress passed PPACA, the health care law that called for the establishment of an exchange in every state. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician, is a respected voice on health reform.
The state also has a large population of young, underemployed progressives who might provide a burgeoning market for affordable coverage. Its ultra-competitive health care market led to lower-than-expected premiums. Lawmakers from both parties have embraced the law. And the Portland area is a thriving hub of technology companies known as the Silicon Forest.
In other words, Oregon had everything going for it.