Lawmakers went after the state’s troubled health insurance exchange Wednesday, setting the stage for a debate that likely will be waged throughout the five-week legislative session.
Democratic Rep. Shemia Fagan, of Clackamas, on Wednesday told the House Committee on Health Care she believes everyone can agree “there have been massive failures in Cover Oregon.” Fagan urged the passage of House Bill 4154, which she said would ensure Oregonians don’t “pay the price for those failures.”
But although lawmakers might agree the Cover Oregon rollout was botched, agreement on what steps need to be taken next probably will remain more elusive.
The legislation joins a handful of other measures aimed at the problem-riddled exchange.
House Bill 4154 would direct Cover Oregon board members to seek a waiver from the federal government to extend the open enrollment by a month, to the end of April, giving consumers more time to sign up and still receive a tax break. The governor is also seeking a waiver.
The bill would help consumers and small businesses that signed up outside of the exchange, because of its technical problems, to still receive tax benefits.
It would also allow the governor to remove Cover Oregon board members and would ensure that people in the high-risk medical pool have coverage. In addition, it would give Cover Oregon employees whistle-blower protections.
Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who is running for governor, said that although he appreciates the intent, the measure doesn’t go far enough. Cover Oregon, he said, has been a drain on state funds. It’s time for the state to stop trying to duplicate a program that is working elsewhere, referring to the federal health insurance exchange.
“It’s good money after bad,” he said.
Richardson expressed interest in introducing an amendment to the measure that would scrap Cover Oregon and instead have the state use the federal exchange.
Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, who is vying for a seat in the U.S. Senate, expressed doubt the website would ever be functional, saying that components of House Bill 4154 would be “kicking the can down the road.”
Fagan, however, said as the measure stands now, it’s something most lawmakers can get behind.
Regardless of where lawmakers fall on the future of Cover Oregon, she said, they all want to help families and small businesses get the tax relief they deserve.
“I don’t want this bill to get bogged down in the obvious politics of this issue,” Fagan said.
The Cover Oregon website was expected to launch Oct. 1, but instead became a high-profile embarrassment for the state. It still is unable to enroll people through the website, and the state has instead relied on enrolling people via a paper application.
The governor in previous interviews has said he is the one who should be held accountable. The director of Cover Oregon, Rocky King, stepped down as did Carolyn Lawson, the chief information officer.…