SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A former state technology manager involved in building the software behind Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange notified the state Monday that she may file a lawsuit for defamation and wrongful termination.
Carolyn Lawson, the former chief information for the Oregon Health Authority, alleges that she was asked to resign in December because she objected to making public statements she deemed false. Her claim says managers at the Health Authority and the insurance exchange, known as Cover Oregon, “privately threatened and publicly scapegoated” her.
Oregon is the only state that still doesn’t have an online capability allowing the general public to quickly enroll in insurance under the new federal health care law. Lawson and her staff were responsible for overseeing the early technology development for Cover Oregon.
The failures have created tremendous political pressure for Gov. John Kitzhaber, who championed the exchange, and state legislators who overwhelmingly backed it.
Lawson’s lawyer, David Angeli of Portland, alleges that OHA and Cover Oregon officials “responded to the criticism by organizing, encouraging, allowing, tolerating and/or engaging in a substantial cover-up” in order to protect certain people and point the finger at Lawson and others.
Angeli filed a tort claim notice with the Department of Administrative Services, a required precursor to an eventual lawsuit. He claims the state’s actions amount to defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination and a violation of Oregon’s whistleblower protections.
The claim names the Oregon Health Authority, Cover Oregon and senior officials at each: Tina Edlund, interim director of OHA, and Patty Wentz, the communications director; as well as Bruce Goldberg, interim director of Cover Oregon and Rocky King, the former director.
Karynn Fish, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority, and Amy Fauver, Cover Oregon’s chief communications officer, both declined to comment.
Responsibility for the project lied with Lawson’s technology team until May 2013, when a federal grant ran out unexpectedly early and Cover Oregon took over. Internal documents released under Oregon’s public records law showed that Cover Oregon officials believed they received substandard code when they took on full responsibility for the project.
Lawson disputes that narrative. Her claim says Cover Oregon officials were deeply involved as early as June of 2012 and deserve a large share of the blame.
“Cover Oregon’s inability to articulate clear business requirements, establish any clear scope for the project, or provide effective leadership rank high among the easily provable reasons why the project failed.”
Lawson alleges Wentz told her it was part of her job to deliver “talking points” that Lawson believed were “misleading and/or not entirely truthful.”
She alleges that Wentz told her: “Somebody has to be held to blame for this - it’s going to be Rocky (King), or it’s going to be Oracle, or it’s going to be you. We want it to be Oracle, but it can be you if you want.” The claim says Lawson viewed that statement as a threat.
Oracle was the project’s chief contractor and has billed $160 million to date. King went on medical leave and later stepped down as Cover Oregon’s chief.
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