By Lauren Dake

The Bulletin

PORTLAND — The man charged with leading the state’s troubled health insurance exchange told Cover Oregon board members on Thursday he expects Sunday’s key enrollment deadline will be extended to ensure more people are covered by the first of the year.

“This is good news; it’s more time,” Bruce Goldberg, the interim director of Cover Oregon, said after the meeting.

With the state’s health insurance exchange website still not working, Cover Oregon continues to process paper applications.

Nearly 65,000 people met a Dec. 4 deadline to apply to the exchange.

For those who met that deadline, the next step was for Cover Oregon to send them an enrollment packet, which needs to be returned with a chosen insurance plan by Sunday.

But as many as 30,000 people have yet to receive packets from Cover Oregon, the agency in charge of the exchange.

During Thursday’s meeting, Dr. George Brown, a Cover Oregon board member, asked Goldberg how confident he was that the exchange would be able to offer coverage to everyone who qualified.

Goldberg said it would depend on how far past Sunday the deadline is extended.

He plans to meet today with Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali and insurance carriers to discuss the extension. Goldberg expects to announce more details later today or early next week.

“When I have an exact date about how much more time we’ve got, I think I can come back to you with more information about confidence around that,” Goldberg told Brown.

“At this point, I’m confident we’ll get through the vast majority. Our goal is to get through them all.”

As of Thursday, the state’s exchange had enrolled 13,096 people. Of those, 10,627 were eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid. Those eligible for Medicaid do not have to wait for an enrollment packet to pick a plan; they are automatically signed up.

The exchange has only enrolled 2,424 through private plans.

And, Goldberg said at the meeting, the state’s health insurance exchange website is not likely to be operational until after January.

“When after January, I do not know,” he said.

Goldberg said everyone wants to “avoid (forecasting) a series of dates that come and go,” eroding credibility.

Rocky King, who was the head of Cover Oregon until last week, has taken a medical leave of absence.

At the meeting, Melissa Unger, the state director of the Service Employees International Union, said the state needed to streamline its paper application.

“It’s clear paper is the way we are going to enroll for a while,” she said.

Consumers are confused by the 19-page application and get stuck on questions, she said.

The board members also told Goldberg what they expected from him.

Liz Baxter, the board chairwoman, said she expects more transparency.

She told Goldberg she wanted a more “cut-to-the chase” approach and that she’s frustrated getting her news about Cover Oregon from reading the newspapers.

“We’ve taken a credibility hit,” Baxter said.

Goldberg agreed and noted he’s also working to hold the contractors of the website accountable.

“We’ve withheld substantial payment,” he said, adding $18 million to $19 million has been withheld.

“At the same time, I’ve been in touch with getting some outside legal assistance and expertise on our contract and the options we have as an organization to hold our contractors accountable,” Goldberg said.

In addition, all advertisements for the state’s health insurance exchange will stop Monday.

Before they are brought back, Goldberg said, “we have to determine what we want to advertise.”

— Reporter, 541-554-1162