- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregonians will have an extra month to sign up for subsidized health insurance, and the state’s health insurance exchange is planning a $1 million push to get the word out, officials announced Wednesday.

The deadline to apply for coverage is now April 30, Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a news release. The 30-day extension came a day after the Obama administration said it would allow people additional time to sign up in certain circumstances, including technology problems.

Oregon’s exchange, Cover Oregon, has been plagued by software glitches and still can’t allow the general public to enroll from start to finish in one sitting.

“I want to make sure that people know they can still apply,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “They have time to do so, for themselves and their families, and they should take advantage right away.”

Cover Oregon officials are nearing a decision about what technology to use for the 2015 enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. They have narrowed the options to three.

The new federal health care law requires nearly all Americans to have health coverage. The extension will give some people more time to avoid a penalty, although the governor’s office said some people who apply during April directly to an insurance company - bypassing Cover Oregon - may still face a partial fine. Those who apply through Cover Oregon will not face fines.

People who qualify for taxpayer subsidies will be able to get them whether they go through Cover Oregon or directly to an insurance company.

Cover Oregon officials also announced Wednesday that they are beginning an ad campaign to urge people to sign up, including thousands who applied and were found eligible for private insurance coverage but never enrolled. The $1 million campaign will use television, print and digital ads.

“The goal is to target people who are deadline-driven, those who may have been waiting for the website to launch and younger Oregonians,” said Amy Fauver, Cover Oregon’s chief communications officer.

Those who want to apply have several options.

They can apply online at www.CoverOregon.com and electronically submit a fillable PDF form. They can print a paper application, then mail or fax it in. Workers will process the applications, determining whether the applicant is eligible for financial assistance, then mail an enrollment packet with information about the available insurance plans. The applicant can then select his or her choice online and wait to receive a bill from the insurance company.

Insurance agents and community organizations certified by Cover Oregon have access to an online portal that lets complete the entire application process from start to finish, but it doesn’t work with complicated family situations.

People seeking coverage also can go directly to an insurance company.

Through Tuesday, about 175,000 people had enrolled in health coverage through Cover Oregon, the agency said. About 50,000 have enrolled in a private medical insurance plan, with the rest going to the publicly funded Oregon Health Plan.

Meanwhile, Cover Oregon officials informed a group of state lawmakers this week that they are looking at the advantages and disadvantages of three options for next year’s enrollment:

- Continue with the current technology but hire a new vendor to finish building it. The state and its current consultant, Oracle Corp., have begun parting ways.

- Dump the current system and partner with the federal government, which is running the exchange technology for most states.

- Transfer technology from another state where it’s working, such as Rhode Island.

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