State of the Union Response (Oregon Catalyst)

Oregon State Representative Jason Conger

Candidate for U.S. Senate – released the following statement in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address:

“What we heard tonight was the 5th installment of the same speech given year after year. President threatening to circumvent Congress to get what he wants, doubling down on failed policies, and failing to take responsibility for the mistakes made by his administration.”

If President Obama is serious about helping bring people out of poverty and growing small businesses, he should start by repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a solution that actually reduces the cost of healthcare and really allows people to keep the doctor and the insurance plan they want. Here in Oregon, over 140,000 people lost their healthcare coverage when their plans were cancelled. Many will have to pay an Obamacare penalty tax for not purchasing healthcare… through an exchange that doesn’t work.

It is time for new leadership and a new perspective. As someone who grew up in poverty and understands what it takes to get out, I will fight for solutions that will build a better quality of life for working and middle class families – not more failed promises.”…

Lawmakers begin work on Cover Oregon: Ongoing troubles with state’s health insurance exchange

SALEM

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.…

House committee begins work on Cover Oregon fixes

Oregon Legislators

today brought up a wide array of options during a discussion on a bill the chief sponsor says would protect Oregonians from the impacts of Cover Oregon’s failed launch, hold those responsible accountable and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again.

Much of the debate was focused on the immediate solutions to the health insurance exchange’s issues and whether what Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, suggested as solutions were prolonging the inevitable – the end of the exchange.

Among other things, House Bill 4154 would require the Cover Oregon board to seek waivers from the federal government to extend this year’s open enrollment period by a month and to allow Oregonians – individuals and small businesses – who didn’t receive financial assistance for which they qualify because of Cover Oregon’s technical problems to receive the tax subsidies anyway.

Gov. John Kitzhaber is already in discussions with the federal government to request the same waivers.

Currently, signing up for insurance through government exchanges is the only way to qualify for tax credits that would subsidize premiums.

Several lawmakers on the House health care committee shared doubts that a one-month extension would be enough and that the website would be complete by then. Rep. Jason Conger reiterated his previous sentiments that the website would probably never work.

“Why do we keep kicking the can down the road?” Conger said. “If we had a full picture of what’s going on, we’d probably conclude it’s never going to work.”

Fagan maintained that while she is open to amendments, she wants to focus on solutions that are achievable.

Rep. Bill Kennemer said the solutions offered in the bill are inadequate. He added that the depth and complexities of Cover Oregon’s problems are probably beyond the scope of the committee, and that perhaps a special session was in order.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, who has called for a shutdown of the Cover Oregon website, also attended the meeting to voice his wishes to end its online operation. It was inevitable anyway, he said, because there won’t be enough enrollments to keep the exchange afloat when the federal funds go away at the end of this year.

Richardson is challenging Kitzhaber in this year’s gubernatorial race. He has publicly blamed Kitzhaber for Cover Oregon’s failures.

“What I want to be very clear about is I don’t want this bill to be bogged down by the obvious politics around this issue,” Fagan replied. “This is something we can all agree on. Regardless of where you fall (politically), it doesn’t change the fact that there are Oregon families who deserve tax credits they couldn’t get because of glitches in the website.”…