SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State lawmakers grilled the leader of Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange about whether Cover Oregon's technology and reputation can ever recover from widespread problems with its online enrollment system.
Several Republican lawmakers asked if it's time to drop Cover Oregon and have the federal government run Oregon's exchange instead, as it does for 36 other states.
Cover Oregon's acting director, Dr. Bruce Goldberg, says it's too soon to consider that option. He says he's planning for contingencies in case the technology can't be fixed in the next two months or very few people enroll in coverage.
Cover Oregon's success depends on having enough people sign up to pay its bills after federal grants dry up at the end of the year.
State Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) said Wednesday he has sent a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber urging him to close down the failed "Cover Oregon" health care exchange.
"Cover Oregon is a huge and costly failure and a national embarrassment for Oregon," Conger wrote. "Members of the Legislature, including me, had to decide between a Federal Government exchange or one Oregon-controlled. We opted for local control.
"We put our trust in your administration to execute a functional healthcare exchange and you have failed. It is unacceptable to waste more taxpayer money on a failed system that will never work as promised."
Conger said that there may be as much as $200 million of the $304 million the federal government provided to Oregon for the state exchange that has not been spent and urged Kitzhaber to return the unused funds (and any funds recovered from the Cover Oregon contractors) to the U.S. Treasury to pay down the national debt.
"I have no confidence that many of the same individuals, agencies and companies that presided over this ongoing disaster are in a position to salvage the state website," he wrote. "Indeed, I don't believe they should be afforded yet another chance to fail - I have simply lost faith in this whole project."
Conger, one of several Republicans seeking to unseat Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., proposed allowing the state's poor and uninsured to access federal subsidies when they buy plans already offered on the exchanges directly from the state's insurers, rather than having them left fending for themselves in a federal exchange that is equally as troubled as Cover Oregon.
"I believe the state should rely on the private sector to rescue it from Cover Oregon's epic failure. Consumers would not have to go to online exchanges that don't work to purchase the coverage they need," he said in his letter to Kitzhaber.
Conger acknowledged that allowing consumers to side-step government healthcare exchanges would likely require a federal waiver, but pointed out that the federal government has granted quite a few waivers and exemptions already, including to Oregon on other matters under Kitzhaber's leadership.
Click HERE for a copy of the letter.