- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

DURHAM, Ore. (AP) - The board of Cover Oregon voted Thursday to hire Aaron Patnode, a Kaiser Permanente official, to lead the troubled health insurance exchange.

Patnode has worked for Kaiser in Portland for five years and currently leads the health system’s efforts to implement the federal health care overhaul. He previously worked as a public relations specialist and hospital administrator in Massachusetts and Minnesota.

“Talking to Aaron and getting to know him reasonably well, it’s clear that he relishes the challenge and he understands what’s at risk here,” said Dr. George Brown, the Legacy Health chief executive who serves on Cover Oregon’s board and led the executive-director search committee.

Seventy people applied for the job, and 19 were interviewed before the field was narrowed to six, said Dennis Karras, a recruiting consultant from Olympia, Washington, hired to help with the search. Some of the six candidates dropped out after the state decided to scrap its website and use federal technology instead, Karras said. The other finalists were not disclosed.

Patnode will be Cover Oregon’s fourth director in six months. He’ll take over from interim director Clyde Hamstreet, a consultant who specializes in turning around troubled businesses. Hamstreet would likely hand off the executive director’s responsibility for day-to-day operations of Cover Oregon but continue consulting on Cover Oregon’s efforts to restructure.

Cover Oregon’s board will negotiate with Patnode on a salary and start date. The job was listed at a salary of $134,000 to $225,000 per year, plus the possibility of a performance incentive, Brown said.

Assuming he and the board agree on contract terms, Patnode will take over an agency with a troubled past and an uncertain future. Cover Oregon is in the process of transition from its own technology for online enrollment, which never fully functioned, to a federally run website. Federal grant money runs out at the end of the year, and the agency will have to be self-sustaining using a monthly charge for each person covered with health insurance.

Hamstreet told board members they will have to ponder several fundamental questions about the organization’s future, including whether Cover Oregon should continue to exist as an independent entity or be folded into another state agency.

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