Kitzhaber health care adviser testifies before Congress

Official downplays Cover Oregon website issues, says more than 300,000 Oregonians have received health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

WASHINGTON — A health care adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber told members of a House subcommittee Thursday that despite a troubled website that is still not fully functional, more than 300,000 Oregonians have received health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

As of the end of March, 57,000 people had used Cover Oregon, the state’s online health exchange, to sign up for coverage, said Greg Van Pelt, president of the Oregon Health Leadership Council and adviser to the governor and Dr. Bruce Goldberg, Cover Oregon’s acting director. Another 140,000 had enrolled in Medicaid using the state marketplace, while 125,000 enrolled directly in Medicaid through the Oregon Health Plan, he said.

Van Pelt testified before a joint hearing of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled “Examining ObamaCare’s Problem-Filled State Exchanges.” Representatives of five other states, including Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, California and Minnesota, also testified.

Ordinarily, Goldberg would have testified, but he was sidelined by a broken leg, Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt deflected his testimony away from Cover Oregon’s launch of a non-functioning website Oct. 1 and the subsequent resignations of key executives involved in the project’s development. Rocky King, Cover Oregon’s executive director, stepped down earlier this year for health reasons.

Aaron Karjala and Carolyn Lawson, the information technology directors of Cover Oregon and Oregon Health Authority, respectively, also resigned.

Last month, Kitzhaber accepted Goldberg’s resignation, effective as soon as a permanent replacement can be found.

“The launch of Oregon’s insurance exchange has been different than we hoped,” Van Pelt said Thursday.

None of the members of the Oversight Committee are from Oregon’s delegation, and very few of the members’ questions were directed at Van Pelt. At one point, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., suggested that many of the new enrollees in Oregon were people who were not able to stay on their previous health care plan.

“The number I have (for Oregon) is about 135,000 individuals who lost policies because of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate,” he said. Van Pelt answered that a greater number — 57,000 enrollees plus 140,000 covered by Medicaid — had used the online exchange to help secure coverage.

Asked after the hearing how much of the more than $300 million in federal funding Cover Oregon would seek to recoup from contractors who failed to deliver a working website, Van Pelt said: “I’d have to defer to some other folks to answer that question.” He refused to answer any other questions, saying he had a plane to catch.

Oregon’s increase in enrollment — as of March 1, 38,806 individuals had signed up for a marketplace plan in contrast with the 57,000 by month’s end — mirrors the late surge that helped push enrollment via the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, to over 7 million.

“Despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces,” President Barack Obama said earlier this week as he touted the results.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com