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Richardson calls for audit of Cover Oregon

He says program has wasted $200 million so far
 Posted: 2:00 AM February 13, 2014

State Rep. Dennis Richardson has sunk his political teeth into Oregon's bungled rollout of a new health-care system.

The Central Point Republican, who hopes to challenge Gov. John Kitzhaber for his seat this November, has called for a federal audit of Cover Oregon. He and Congressman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, are expected to make an announcement on that issue today.

Richardson, who said he would be critical of the governor even if he wasn't running for his office, has accused Kitzhaber of a cover-up over Cover Oregon, which is this state's version of the Affordable Care Act.

Almost 5,000 signatures have been collected on a petition by Richardson calling on the federal Government Accountability Office to audit Cover Oregon.

An early supporter of the health-care program, Richardson has charged the governor with lack of oversight and of wasting almost $200 million on Cover Oregon, which is still plagued with issues.

"The only response from the governor is to throw more money at the problem," he said.

Kitzhaber has made repeated public announcements that he is "accountable" for the failed rollout of Cover Oregon on Oct. 1. The principal culprit in that failure is a website that is still not working, which has forced the state to use forms instead.

The governor has called for a $228,000 audit to determine what happened, a step that Richardson says is merely an attempt to buy time and deflect the blame.

Oracle, the tech giant that has been working on software and hardware with the Oregon Health Authority, has 100 programmers working to get the website functioning by this weekend, though it will be available initially only to insurance agents.

Ian Greenfield, spokesman for the governor, said the Kitzhaber wouldn't speculate on any federal government audit prior to an official announcement.

Greenfield said despite the problems with Cover Oregon, the state has managed to sign up significant numbers of Oregonians under the plan.

"Cover Oregon deserves credit for the 102,352 enrolled through the exchange, which includes the 67,517 in the Oregon Health Plan and 34,835 in private insurance," Greenfield said in an email response.

A combination of those signing up for private insurance and those who didn't have health coverage previously will make a significant dent in the number of uninsured Oregonians, Greenfield said.

Prior to the implementation of Cover Oregon, the state expanded its Medicaid program under the Oregon Health Plan.

"We don't yet know that exact number — there will be surveys on it in the future — but the conservative estimate is that of the 216,000 enrollees, 120,000 of them are newly insured, reducing Oregon's uninsured population by at least 20 percent, which is an incredible feat," Greenfield wrote.

Only four months after the rollout, Greenfield said, there has been evidence that insurance companies have been lowering premiums because of a more competitive market through the Cover Oregon exchange. Another benefit of the program is qualifying Oregonians for tax credits if they take out insurance.

Richardson, however, said the governor's office is hiding behind numbers to obscure the fact that few Oregonians have signed up for private insurance. That could create an unsustainable future for Cover Oregon, he said, because the bulk of the enrollees will be subsidized.

At the same time, the website is still plagued with innumerable issues that haven't been resolved, Richardson said.

The website doesn't make it clear that the system isn't working correctly. Applicants receive a message that Cover Oregon doesn't support popular browsers such as Google Chrome or Firefox. Instead, the website recommends using Internet Explorer.

"This whole thing is a train wreck," Richardson said.

Richardson said he's contacted the governor several times since 2012 to discuss issues involving Cover Oregon that were cited in reviews by Maximus, a company that provided oversight for the project. Despite those issues, Richardson said, Kitzhaber only acknowledged being aware of significant problems in October.

Kitzhaber's office said the governor was aware of the Maximus reports but had been assured the issues were being resolved.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.


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