Cover Oregon deadline at 5 p.m. Monday

By Lauren Dake The Bulletin Published Jan 4, 2014 at 12:01AM

PORTLAND — There are still as many as 15,000 people who have until 5 p.m. on Monday to choose a private insurance plan through the state’s exchange and receive retroactive coverage dating back to the first of the year.

Cover Oregon Spokesman Michael Cox said the exchange has 125 people answering calls and the longest wait time on the phone on Friday was 37 minutes.

The approximately 15,000 people who are eligible still need to choose a plan by Monday to receive benefits and qualify for a tax break in January. Consumers can use the state’s website to pick a plan, call Cover Oregon, or contact a certified community partner or insurance agent for help.

So far, Cover Oregon has enrolled about 18,000 people in private insurance.

In addition, 32,000 people were enrolled through the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid.

On Friday, the day after Cover Oregon Director Rocky King stepped down permanently, health insurance exchange officials told a consumer advisory committee in Portland they don’t know when the website will be working and the focus remains on enrolling people manually.

King had been on medical leave since early December, but resigned Thursday. Bruce Goldberg, director of the state’s health authority, has been acting as interim director of the state’s troubled health exchange. King’s departure allows the Cover Oregon board to search for a permanent replacement.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said in December he would like an independent review into what was behind the state’s health insurance exchange’s botched rollout.

Despite a lot of fingers pointed at the website’s main contractor, Oracle Corp., House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, maintained Cover Oregon officials and the governor share the blame for the unsuccessful rollout.

The state is still interviewing contractors and is expected to announce the scope of the review and who will oversee it within the next couple of weeks.

“The governor has said he’s going to do an independent investigation and I hope it is truly independent and not just a whitewash,” McLane said.

Lawmakers are also preparing for the abbreviated legislative session slated to start in February. There will likely be several hearings focusing on different aspects of Cover Oregon.

“We need to do it before the evidence gets stale,” McLane said.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, have both said they plan to pass legislation to ensure Oregonians in the high-risk insurance pool, known as the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, will not lose health care while the website isn’t functioning. Oregon Health Authority has already granted temporary relief to those in the high-risk pool, but legislation will likely be needed to approve funding for the extension.

Cover Oregon is federally funded until the end of this year. To be self-sufficient, it must attract enough enrollees, which is a big concern for Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend.

“The thing that concerns me is if people don’t believe it’s going to work, and they have no reason to think it will, then they won’t use it,” Conger said. “And if they don’t use it, it won’t be self-sustaining and I don’t think we should continue to pour money into it.”

Cover Oregon officials said they will have a better idea of enrollment numbers at the end of open enrollment in March. They expect more people to sign up in the next couple of months.

Otherwise it would be in the hands of the governor, Legislature and the Cover Oregon board to decide the next move.

— Reporter: 541-554-1162, ldake@bendbulletin.com