DURHAM, Ore. – After months of trying to get its problem-plagued online health exchange to work, Oregon on Friday officially gave up on the state portal and decided to switch to the federal website – the first state in the nation to do so.
An early adapter and early enthusiast of the Affordable Care Act, Oregon was once seen as the national leader in health care reform. The progressive state’s ambitious vision for its exchange, its colossal multimillion-dollar failure, and the inability to fix the glitch-filled site illustrate the complexity of the health care law and the challenges for states that decided to build their own exchanges.
Oregon, which so far has failed to enroll a single person in coverage in one sitting through its exchange, decided to ditch the exchange because officials said fixing it would be too costly at $78 million and would take too long. Switching to the federal system will cost just $4 million to $6 million and is the least risky option.
Oregon paid its main technology contractor Oracle Corp. $134 million to build the online exchange.
Several other states, which have experienced major problems with their exchanges, are also debating their futures – although it’s unclear how many, if any, will switch to the federal portal. Already, one other state has chosen to replace its site: Maryland recently decided to adopt the technology used on Connecticut’s successful exchange.
Of the 14 states and the District of Columbia that built their own exchanges, in a half-dozen states, technical troubles have cropped up after exchanges launched last October, marring implementation of the health care overhaul.
Oregon will continue using the current technology for Medicaid enrollments, but it will have to improve on the system. Officials estimated the cost of the improvements at about $35 million. They said the federal government would pay 90 percent of those costs and of the costs of switching to the federal exchange. In total, Oregon has spent nearly $250 million of the $305 million it received from the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans blasted Cover Oregon after its board approved ditching the beleaguered site.
“Today’s decision by Cover Oregon to move to the federal health exchange after months of false assurances is an incredibly embarrassing moment for the state of Oregon,” state Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said in a statement. “Oregonians were sold false promises, and all we got was a faulty, unfinished product.”
But Cover Oregon officials defended the exchange.
“There’s a lot of disappointment. There was a lot of passion for the project,” said Cover Oregon interim executive director Clyde Hamstreet. “But I don’t think it’s all a waste. There’s a lot of value in what’s been done.”
Despite the exchange’s technology fiasco, about 242,000 have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon.