- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Nevada has decided to use the federal Obamacare exchange for at least the next year, joining the ranks of states that will ditch their own portals after a rocky first round of sign-ups.

The Silver State Exchange board voted Tuesday to ditch its current contractor, Xerox, and become a type of exchange that technically runs its own marketplace, even though residents will shop on the federal website, HealthCare.gov, for the second round of Obamacare signups, which starts this November.

In its announcement, the exchange said the state will still conduct its own Medicaid determinations and enrollment, as well as marketing, outreach and the navigator program that provides in-person assistance for those seeking health coverage. It also said the federal government will pick up the tab for transitioning from the state exchange to HealthCare.gov.

“The Board’s unanimous decision ultimately reflects the Exchange’s foremost concern: ensuring that Nevadans receive unfettered access to health insurance coverage,” said Steve Fisher, interim executive director of the exchange.

“Additionally, it is the least cost option with the highest probability of success for the 2015 plan year. Exchange staff is in full support of the Board’s decision, and plans to continue working diligently with all parties to ensure a smooth transition for Nevadans,” he said.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval had been an anomaly among Republican executives, opting to set up a state-run exchange from the start instead of handing over the responsibility to the federal government. He reasoned it would be best to have the state take charge of its own marketplace.

SEE ALSO: Twenty states throw support behind lawsuit aimed at overturning Obamacare

But the website, known as Nevada Health Link, ran into so many hiccups during the open-enrollment season that it gave consumers who were thwarted from signing up from October to March an extra two months to enroll.

For its part, Xerox called the board’s decision “extremely disappointing.”

“Xerox has been unwavering in its commitment to Nevada Health Link and to getting all aspects of the exchange right,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said. “We have engaged the full breadth of Xerox’s resources and have brought in external experts to meet that goal.”

She said the portal’s accomplishments were admirable, with 190,000 Nevadans determined eligible for Medicaid and 10,000 signing up for private plans. However, such numbers would also reflect longstanding Republican criticisms of Obamacare as not getting private insurance to many people compared to the number of Medicaid enrollees.

But Rep. Steven Horsford, Nevada Democrat, said he would like to see state and federal lawmakers “hold contractors accountable when they fail to deliver a working product.”

“Since the launch of Nevada Health Link, the entire system has performed inadequately: Recurring website problems, billing errors, and slow responses to consumer complaints have plagued Nevada’s exchange,” he said. “I urge the Silver State Exchange Board of Directors, the body responsible for Nevada Health Link, to carefully examine how Xerox made use of the $12 million in taxpayer funds it has been paid, and how the State may be able to recuperate any losses.”

However, the state and vendor are not cutting all ties. Officials said Xerox’s call center and website will be in place for current enrollees who experience life changes and need to alter their plans between now and Nov. 15.

Nevada is among several state-run exchanges that faced a wobbly rollout last fall and faced crunch time this spring, because the start of Obamacare’s second enrollment period is just six months away.

Last month, Oregon opted to dump its beleaguered exchange and use HealthCare.gov, citing how much cheaper it would be than fixing its site, Cover Oregon, or upgrading to another state’s technology.

Things got even worse Tuesday, as federal prosecutors subpoenaed state records for a grand jury investigation into the balky website, which suffered the ignominy of being the only exchange in America that did not allow people to enroll online from end to end. The subpoenas demand records of communications among officials who developed the site, including five who resigned, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, railed against Obamacare and its failed promises from the Senate floor Tuesday.

He said it was a flawed scheme that may have wasted millions on subsidies that were too high for certain people’s income levels, plus “millions more on websites designed in states that have been basically looked and called, broken, dysfunctional, crippled.”

“You name it, not working,” he said.

Mr. Barrasso and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, have introduced legislation that would force failed state exchanges to pay back any federal grant money they received to set up their portals.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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