- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - More than four months late, Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange is finally allowing some people to enroll online.

Cover Oregon on Tuesday rolled out its online enrollment system to insurance agents and community organizations, allowing them to directly enroll people with less complex situations from start to finish in one sitting.

With the help of an agent or community group, most people should be able to fill out an application, determine whether they are eligible for financial assistance, choose a plan and enroll, said Michael Cox, a spokesman for Cover Oregon. People with more complex applications will have to return to the website after the Cover Oregon staff process a portion of it, he said.

Agents and community groups have been given training on the system and its known problems, Cox said, as well as instructions for contacting Cover Oregon if problems arise.

Cox said people have successfully enrolled using the online system, but he declined to say how many.

Cover Oregon’s website lists insurance agents and community groups certified to use the new online enrollment system. Individuals or families working alone can still submit applications online that will be processed by hand.

There’s no date for fully launching the enrollment system to the general public.

“Any decision that’s ultimately made about releasing functionality to the public has to be balanced with the current process we’re using,” Cox said. “In other words, it would have to improve enrollments. That’s the benchmark.”

Cover Oregon had initially planned a limited launch Oct. 1 for insurance agents and community groups trained to use the system, with a full launch two weeks later. The system wasn’t ready, officials pulled the plug just days before, and a series of missed deadlines ensued.

Officials hastily pulled together a backup plan, asking people to submit a paper form or online PDF application, which would then be processed by hundreds of newly hired or temporarily reassigned workers. The multi-step application process requires applicants to wait for days or weeks after submitting their application to find out whether they qualify for tax credits or the publicly funded Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid for the poor.

Those who qualified for private insurance would then have to select a plan, either online or through the mail, and pay their premium before coverage would take effect.

Just over 100,000 people have navigated that process, about two-thirds of them getting Medicaid and the rest private insurance plans. Another 123,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid through a process that bypasses Cover Oregon.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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