Editorial: Cover Oregon shuts public out of oversight

We already knew Cover Oregon spent money it shouldn’t. It created a health care marketplace that didn’t work. And now we learn it held secret meetings when it said it wouldn’t.

Salem’s Statesman-Journal reported Thursday that Cover Oregon kept its oversight meetings with the Legislature behind closed doors. Cover Oregon and the Legislature provided no public notice of the meetings. It provided no agendas. It kept no minutes. The meetings were held monthly since May 2012 in secret.

When a reporter tried to attend, the reporter was escorted out.

Legislators who did attend were not able to do much oversight. They weren’t given basic information about what was going on. For instance, they say they weren’t told of the quality assurance reports, produced by a contractor hired by the state, that month after month warned Cover Oregon was in trouble.

Cover Oregon officials insisted the oversight committee meetings were not public meetings and so they didn’t need to follow Oregon’s public meetings law. Only a judge can ultimately decide if the meetings ran afoul of the law.

They certainly violated the spirit and intent of the law, which is that the public’s business should be done in the open. Why exactly should oversight of one of the most important health care changes in Oregon history be kept secret?

One legislator, committee member Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, argued the meetings should remain secret. Public officials often are enamored with the idea that if the public is shut out, outcomes will be better because the discussions will be more frank. “The substance of public meetings can be different than the subject of private meetings,” Greenlick said.

How many more fiascos like this does it take before that homily is dispelled by laughter?

What makes the secret meetings worse is the hypocrisy. Cover Oregon officials declared they would be open and transparent. Cover Oregon Chief Communications Officer Amy Fauver told The Bulletin’s editorial board on July 24 that Cover Oregon was going to be open about what it does. She failed to add that would not include program oversight.

Blinded by hubris and smitten with a crusade to bring better health care, Cover Oregon managed to produce what is arguably the worst health care marketplace in the country. And it tried to hide what it was doing from the public.