Editorial: Secrecy hampers Cover Oregon course corrections

Two things haven’t changed about the Cover Oregon exchange: It doesn’t work and officials keep making misleading statements and hiding new information.

A consultant’s report dated Feb. 10 laid out the latest bad news: It would take $40 million and two years to fix the existing system, with either the original vendor or a replacement. The same report estimated the least expensive fix: $4 million to $6 million and five to eight months if the state joins the federal exchange.

Yet weeks later in late February, state officials were still saying the Cover Oregon system might be fixed in March, according to The Oregonian, and a report shared with legislators in March made no mention of the new consultant’s report.

When Oregonian reporter Nick Budnick obtained a copy of the report by consultant Deloitte Development, Cover Oregon told him it was preliminary and they wouldn’t discuss it. The Deloitte report also listed two mid-range options: (1)A mix of some parts of Cover Oregon with some parts of the federal system, at a cost of $22 million to $25 million, taking five to eight months; or (2) Adopting another state’s system at a cost of $17 million to $20 million, taking seven to nine months.

Each option has difficulties, including the loss of some planned features, the need to transfer data and build different links to insurers. The report makes clear, though, that the riskiest avenue is to stay with the existing system, because it is plagued with defects on many levels.

A state panel is studying the various options and is expected to make a recommendation soon. If the preliminary consultant’s report’s conclusions are affirmed, it’s going to be tough for Oregon to overcome its hubris and join the federal site. For a state that’s always considered itself to be in the forefront of health reform, it would be a big step, but it could be the right one.

Whatever that decision, the state also needs to learn to be more transparent, not just with the public but with legislators. The ongoing cover-up of Cover Oregon’s problems has compounded the difficulties and prevented timely course corrections.