(Bloomberg) — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, D, an emergency-room doctor who for years championed greater access to health care, finds his re-election campaign in trouble after his administration blew the state’s adoption of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange program.
Technical flaws in the Cover Oregon website, the portal to a $305 million state-run insurance exchange, caused thousands of consumers to file paper applications until the state gave up last month and directed enrollees to HealthCare.gov, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) exchange enrollment system.
While PPACA is gaining momentum nationwide with about 8 million people signing on for individual “qualified health plan” (QHP) coverage through the exchange system, Kitzhaber faces the blame for mishandling his state’s rollout. A poll of registered voters found 49 percent want to replace the 67-year-old Democrat. Six Republicans are vying in today’s primary election for the nomination to face him in November.
“He should be held accountable for the failure — and where did the money go?” said Peggy Long, 56, a retired telecommunications executive from Mitchell, Oregon, who said the website repeatedly threw her off and she eventually had to go through a private broker. “Millions of dollars of taxpayer money went to nothing. It’s a dead end.”
While Democrats have held the governor’s office since 1987, Kitzhaber “shows vulnerability,” according to DHM Research, a Portland, Oregon-based research firm. In a poll it conducted for Oregon Public Broadcasting released May 7, 35 percent of registered voters said Kitzhaber should return to office for a fourth term.
The telephone survey of 400 Oregonians had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, according to DHM.
Kitzhaber said that while he takes responsibility for the health program’s missteps, it’s not the only issue in the campaign. He said his record includes “over 100,000 new jobs, having one of the fastest growing economies in the state, transforming our system of public education.”
“You go around the state, and it turns out people are interested in a whole host of other things besides our website,” the governor said in an interview. “They’re interested in whether their kids are going to be able to afford a college education, they’re concerned about their job stability, whether they can afford health care.”
As of May 15, 81,358 people had enrolled in private medical insurance through Cover Oregon, according to the program’s website. Another 198,976 signed up for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s program for low-income residents.
The website’s plight has spurred blame-trading between the state government and the project’s main contractor, Oracle Corp., the biggest maker of database software.
Deborah Hellinger, a spokeswoman for Oracle, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Cover Oregon.