Editorial: Feds should approve Oregon request on tax credits

Published Jan 16, 2014 at 12:01AM

Cover Oregon’s website troubles forced some people to forgo tax credits or suffer a gap in their health insurance coverage. Now Oregon officials have traveled to the nation’s capital to try to repair the damage.

It’s a worthy mission that should get positive response from federal officials.

The Affordable Care Act requires applicants to buy insurance through the exchanges in order to qualify for possible tax credits. But Oregon’s exchange website didn’t work, and state workers were unable to keep up with the paper applications that resulted. Some people who qualified for tax credits had to buy insurance independently or risk having no coverage on Jan. 1.

Two officials from Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office this week sought approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to give those people tax credits anyway, according to a report from Kaiser Health News. If approved, the change would apply only to those who had tried to enroll through Cover Oregon but couldn’t because of the website’s failure and the backup of paper applications.

Sean Kolmer, who serves as the governor’s health policy adviser, told Kaiser that Oregon is not alone in this effort, although he didn’t identify the other states making the same plea. He was accompanied by Dan Carol, the governor’s director of multistate and strategic initiatives.

Although the federal government can’t be blamed for Cover Oregon’s computer troubles, the federal website has had its share of glitches as well. The failures certainly result at least in part from the ACA’s effort to do too much too fast, leaving individuals trapped by mandates and failed systems. Whoever is to blame, it certainly isn’t the individual who tried to sign up and couldn’t, because the system simply didn’t function.

President Obama’s administration has made numerous adjustments to the ACA, because of timing and other issues, including delaying certain mandates and provisions. Just this week, for example, HHS extended coverage for people with serious illnesses who had insurance through the federal high-risk pool.

The adjustment Oregon and other states are seeking on tax credits should be an easy choice: an opportunity to repair at least one of the many errors in this complex system.

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