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Oregon mulls options for troubled health exchange

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber looks on during a news conference last month about Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange. (Associated Press)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber looks on during a news conference last month about Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange. (Associated Press)

PORTLAND – Officials with Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange say they’ve narrowed the options for the site’s future to two: switching to the federal exchange, or staying with the current technology and hiring a new contractor to fix it.

Cover Oregon’s interim chief information officer, Alex Pettit, told board members Thursday that a third option – transferring technology from another state – would be too expensive and take too long.

Earlier this month, Maryland chose to replace its glitch-filled exchange with technology from Connecticut at an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million.

Cover Oregon’s exchange is the only one in the nation that still doesn’t let the public enroll in coverage in one sitting. Instead, the public must use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online application process.

The technology fiasco has been an embarrassment for Oregon and its governor, Democrat John Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor. The state usually is seen as a pioneer in health care.

A February report by Cover Oregon consultant Deloitte Development LLC made public in April found the least expensive fix for Oregon’s health exchange would be linking it to the federally run marketplace, at a cost of $4 million to $6 million. The transition would take five to eight months, the report said.

Officials said that option meets the timeline, requires no further development and is functional. It also allows Oregon to maintain control over plans offered. But it would also mean the loss of full integration of Medicaid and private health plans, a key aspect of Oregon’s earlier exchange aspirations.

Fixing Cover Oregon’s existing portal with the help of a new technology contractor would cost $25.5 million in development and maintenance costs just this year, not counting 2015 costs, according to the Deloitte report. That option maintains the current infrastructure and technology but would require reworking of code and architecture, the hiring of staff with more expertise and some new development.

Using another state’s technology would cost Oregon $17 million to $20 million to buy and configure technology that’s already working in another state, according to the Deloitte analysis.

A Cover Oregon technology committee will bring a final recommendation to the board by the end of April.

“Our goal is to minimize disruption to our customers and our carriers,” Pettit said.

Also Thursday, the board accepted the resignation of interim Executive Director Bruce Goldberg effective immediately. Goldberg had been interim director of Cover Oregon for several months, since the previous executive director went on medical leave and resigned. Last month, Goldberg also resigned as director of the Oregon Health Authority, the agency originally in charge of designing and building the exchange.

So far, about 217,000 Oregonians have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon. About 63,000 of those enrolled in private health plans, while nearly 154,000 enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid.


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