Oregon abandons state Obamacare exchange; first to do so

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Oregon has become the first state to ditch its Obamacare exchange, opting Friday to abandon the $245 million state-run portal and rely on the federal HealthCare.gov site for private health policies when enrollment starts again in November.

Cover Oregon’s board made the decision after the disastrous rolling out of its state-run system. During the first round of enrollment from October to March, it was the only portal in the nation that could not enroll a consumer from end-to-end online. Instead, it had to rely on a clunky online-and-paper system.

“This option presents the lowest risk to complete a functional online exchange in time for the next open enrollment period and comes in at the lowest cost,” an exchange spokeswoman said.

The GOP quickly seized on the vote, deeming Cover Oregon the “exchange to nowhere.”

State House Republican Leader Mike McLane, a Republican, called Friday’s decision “an incredibly embarrassing moment for the state of Oregon.”

“This failure is the result of a complete lack of leadership,” he said in a written statement.

Alex Pettit, Oregon’s information technology chief, had recommended the switch Thursday because it would cost $78 million to fix its existing exchange, while transferring to the federal system would set them back $4 million to $6 million.

Several other state-run exchanges — Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont among them — faced glitches and contract disputes with their vendors.

But Oregon may have fallen the hardest. It started off its Obamacare campaign with folk-song ads and a glossy website, but the nuts and bolts of the portal failed to meet expectations.

The federal Government Accountability Office has announced an investigation of Oregon’s exchange, including looking at whether the federal government can reclaim grant money given to Cover Oregon if taxpayer funds were mismanaged.

In the meantime, exchange officials said state residents still have several days to enroll.

“People who have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon do not need to do anything right now,” spokeswoman Ariane Holm said. “People who haven’t yet applied can still do so until April 30.”

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