(Bloomberg) – Members of the board of Oregon’s troubled public health insurance exchange today voted unanimously to have state residents use the HealthCare.gov exchange enrollment website.
Oregon received $303 million in federal tax money to develop its state-based Cover Oregon site, and the launch of HealthCare.gov – a site developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – was rocky.
But managers of HealthCare.gov say their site recovered enough to help millions of people sign up for private “qualified health plan” (QHP) coverage.
The Cover Oregon enrollment site never recovered from its technology woes. The thousands of residents who bought QHP coverage had to apply using paper applications.
The government of Oregon strongly supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange program, and Oregon was one of the first states awarded HHS exchange construction grants.
Cover Oregon’s failure has spurred blame-trading between the state government and the project’s main contractor, Oracle Corp., the biggest maker of database software, and imperils the re-election of Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.
“At some point you just have to say it’s time to swallow the pill and figure out: what do we do to move on and improve the situation,” Dawn Bonder, the chief executive officer of Health Republic Insurance, a startup selling plans on Cover Oregon, said in a phone interview before the exchange board met. “Looking at all the options and the available funds and the timeline, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of paths to go down at this point in time. It’s sad.”
An advisory panel to the Oregon exchange has recommended the state abandon plans to fix its website or buy technology from another state with a functional marketplace, such as Connecticut.
Joining the federal exchange will cost $4 million to $6 million, the panel said in a report, while fixing Cover Oregon’s site could cost $78 million.
Managers of Maryland’s state-based exchange, Maryland Health Connection, suffered similar catastrophic computer errors.
The Maryland exchange board plans to spend about $45 million to shift to the exchange technology that Deloitte L.L.P. developed for Connecticut.
The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the HHS agency that manages the HHS-run exchanges, “is committed to working closely with states to support their efforts in implementing a marketplace that works best for their consumers,” Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the agency, said in an e- mail. “We are working with Oregon to ensure that all Oregonians have access to quality, affordable health coverage in 2015.”
More than 8 million people have selected QHP coverage through the PPACA exchange system, HHS officials say.
In Oregon, 45,119 customers had selected private exchange plans as April 10, Cover Oregon officials said.