- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oregon may drop its glitch-laden Obamacare portal and rely on the federally run HealthCare.gov website instead, a stark turnaround for a state that embraced the health care law but failed to deliver a fully functioning exchange.

Alex Petit, the state’s information technology chief, made the recommendation to a 16-member advisory committee Thursday because it would cost $78 million to fix its existing exchange.

Switching to the federal system would cost from $4 million to $6 million.

Cover Oregon, which dropped its initial web contractor, Oracle, suffered the ignominy of being the only state-run health exchange that could not enroll consumers online from end to end during the open enrollment period from Oct. 1 to March 31. Instead, it had to rely on a clunky online-and-paper system.

The state tapped Deloitte to help them fix the website, but rising cost estimates for the project are more than the state can bear, according to Mr. Petit.

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

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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.

Separately, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked for an inspector general’s investigation into problems with the rollout of the health care law.

An independent investigation ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber found state managers repeatedly failed to heed reports about technical problems that prevented the exchange from launching. The investigation also found that Oracle did a shoddy job in building the exchange. Four Oregon officials connected to the development of the Cover Oregon portal have resigned.

The Republican National Committee wasted no time in bidding the state exchange adieu and assigning political blame for its failure.

“While we may be saying goodbye to this failed state health care exchange, it will not be lost on anyone that John Kitzhaber and [Democratic Sen.] Jeff Merkley were the individuals responsible for giving Oregonians Cover Oregon,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said.

Cover Oregon has paid $134 million in federal funding to Oracle and has spent another nearly $7 million on the paper processing efforts.

Oracle said it “looks forward to providing any assistance the State needs in moving parts of Oregon’s health care exchange to the Federal system if it ultimately decides to do so.”

Oracle will continue to support the State in providing long term solutions for Oregonians, and to assist with its ongoing health care modernization efforts,” spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger said.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and the House’s top investigator, said the state should pick up the tab for transitioning to the federal exchange.

“Federal taxpayers should not be stuck with the bill twice for this disastrous project,” he said. “The Administration needs to stop treating taxpayers as a bottomless piggy bank to bail out one botched Obamacare project after another. Poor execution by this administration is adding billions to the cost of a program that is already too expensive.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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