- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The chief of Oregon’s health exchange apologized Tuesday for its lackluster performance under Obamacare and said it will not have a high-functioning website until weeks into the new year, as officials plow through thousands of paper applications to get residents covered in time for Jan. 1.

“We’re not where we wanted to be, that’s pretty clear,” acting Executive Director Bruce Goldberg said, adding, “We’re sorry about that.”

Oregon’s troubles offer a snapshot of the hurdles that confront President Obama’s signature domestic achievement in its first year of full implementation, even as technical improvements to the federal Obamacare website offer hope for the administration.

House Republicans are expected to highlight the overhaul’s problems — from website glitches to possible coverage gaps or increased premiums — when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, the latest in a series of Capitol Hill hearings on the reform’s troubled launch.

Panel Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and other committee leaders set the table by writing Tuesday to Medicaid directors in the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ask whether they are prepared to accept new enrollees under Obamacare.

More than half of the states opted to expand the state-federal health entitlement to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but its critics say the expansion will bog down a bloated system and bust state budgets in years to come, when the federal government scales back from 100 percent to 90 percent its contribution to pay for the expanded population.

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Data released Tuesday by Cover Oregon showed enrollment through its exchange has tilted in favor of Medicaid, with just 730 of successful enrollees obtaining private health plans and 9,219 qualifying for the entitlement — a common trend among the states that has Republican lawmakers concerned.

An early adopter of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, Cover Oregon promised great things ahead of its Oct. 1 debut alongside 14 other exchanges run by states and the District of Columbia, along with HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace that serves 36 states. Oregon’s website was marked by stylish green, blue and gray color tones, and it put out a fun advertisement featuring a guitar-carrying woman singing “Live Long in Oregon.”

But the portal has struggled mightily since going live, suffering the ignominy of sorting through paper applications by hand instead of enrolling people on the Internet.

Mr. Goldberg said Cover Oregon is bringing in specialists to speed up private enrollment on the website, which suffered from inadequate development and testing before its launch.

Oregon is not the only state-run exchange suffering from a balky website rollout. But states to the immediate north and south of Oregon — Washington and California — are enjoying robust enrollment on relatively well-functioning exchanges.

Mr. Goldberg expressed optimism that tens of thousands of Oregonians would still gain health coverage by Jan. 1. About 65,000 people had completed an application as of last Wednesday, and half of them had been determined eligible for coverage through Cover Oregon.

“My job is to manage the process [going] forward,” Mr. Goldberg said.

The Obama administration is scheduled to release updated enrollment figures for all 50 states in the coming days, offering the best indication to date of whether the president’s law is on track to insure a projected 7 million people in private health coverage during its first year. Open enrollment lasts until March 31, although enrollees on the federal exchange have to sign up by Dec. 23 to be covered by Jan. 1.

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