Editorial: Cover Oregon needs to uncover the emails

Published Sep 19, 2013 at 05:00AM

Cover Oregon, the group that is running Oregon’s health insurance marketplace, announced more than a month ago that it was short $16 million.

We asked for more details. After all, Cover Oregon’s Chief Communications Officer, Amy Fauver, had told the editorial board on July 24 that it was going to be open about what it does — and nothing tests a government group’s loyalty to the principle of openness like a mistake.

Cover Oregon responded promptly to many of our questions. But for one critical request, emails to and from Cover Oregon Director Howard “Rocky” King about the mistake, it has been more than a month and we still don’t have them.

On Aug. 8, Cover Oregon announced that it was going to launch Oregon’s health insurance marketplace as planned on Oct. 1, but with a big asterisk. The only people who could purchase insurance would be certified insurance agents and community partners. It was going to wait a bit to allow individuals to purchase insurance.

The exchange is part of the Affordable Care Act and enables people to purchase insurance through a website that tries to make it easier to compare costs, benefits and quality. Oct. 1 was the target date. Oregon surely deserves credit for being one of the few states that is working hard to meet the Oct. 1 deadline.

On the same day Cover Oregon announced the delay, The Oregonian also reported the $16 million shortfall.

How did Cover Oregon come up $16 million short?

According to a summary of the issue provided to us by Cover Oregon, a mistake was made.

“In late 2012 updated expenditure projections showed that the project was on track to spend less than was earlier projected,” the summary says in part. “In April 2013, the budget analysts updated projections and those new projections indicated Medicaid and SNAP allocations would go over their limitation ... . That ultimately reduced the total projected savings by about $16 million.”

That’s the official summary. We also wondered what was being said behind the scenes. One way to find out was to ask to see the emails going to and sent from Cover Oregon’s director.

In Oregon, all government records of any kind are considered public records. That includes email. There are various exceptions and qualifiers, but we wondered what the emails about the shortfall would say and just how open Cover Oregon would be.

Cover Oregon did tell us at one point that the emails were coming. When we emailed Cover Oregon again Wednesday, a spokesman promised to send them by the close of business on Friday.

A $16 million mistake is a serious matter. We don’t have any reason to believe that Cover Oregon has anything to hide. But government being open about what it does should mean it promptly discloses public records.

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