Cover Oregon applications left in limbo?

Cover Oregon applications left in limbo? »Play Video
The homepage of Cover Oregon's website.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Walt Nichols started the new year in limbo with no health insurance despite enrolling before the deadlines.

He said Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange, misplaced his application. But within a few hours of learning about Nichols' predicament, the On Your Side Investigators pressed both Cover Oregon and the Department of Human Services (DHS) and successfully helped the man smooth out the problem.

Nichols went to his local DHS office in Southeast Portland to fill out his Cover Oregon application where he said a DHS employee scanned his application and emailed it to Cover Oregon.
Nichols said he confirmed the paperwork was sent and even got a "transaction" number.

But after waiting weeks without an update, Nichols called Cover Oregon to check the progress of his application, and that's when he was told Cover Oregon didn't have any of his records.

Nichols went back to the DHS office and re-confirmed, staffers sent his application. So what happened? Where did his application go?

After the On Your Side Investigators contacted Cover Oregon and DHS, they confirmed Cover Oregon staffers mistakenly gave Nichols the wrong information. According to Cover Oregon spokesman, Michael Cox, the agency did in fact have Nichols' information but said the staffer wrongly claimed to have no record of it.

Is Nichols' case part of a larger problem?

"There is no larger problem," said Cox. "There is no known issues with DHS transfers."

According to the DHS, its system allows it to confirm whether an application was sent correctly.

"DHS has been conducting regular management check-ins with our local offices and has had no reports of a systemwide problem with medical coverage applications," the agency said in a statement to KATU News. "When a local DHS office accepts a medical application and submits it on behalf of the customer by e-mail or FAX, DHS retains the confirmation in the local office for 45 days. That('s) how we were able to confirm that the applicant's paperwork had been sent correctly."

Nichols was excited to finally resolve his application problem but told KATU he was concerned about others left in the same limbo.

"It's the principle that there's probably a ton of other people that are in the same position and don't even know it and if I don't raise the flags, it'll probably never come to light," Nichols said.

Nichols is part of hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who are trying to enroll in President Barack Obama's federally mandated health care coverage in a state that's had one of the worst roll outs in the country. Despite a grand vision, an earlier start and millions of dollars from the government, the state's health insurance exchange website, Cover Oregon, has been in shambles for months. More than three months after its Oct. 1 launch date, Oregon's online enrollment system still hasn't enrolled a single person online.

When it became clear the broken website was going to put enrollments in jeopardy, the state resorted to hiring more than 500 people to process health insurance applications the old-fashioned way, on paper and through call centers, which staff 125 full-time workers.

According to a Cover Oregon, about 170,000 people signed up for health insurance for January through Cover Oregon or the Oregon Health Plan by Wednesday's enrollment deadline.

"There are about 170,000 Oregonians in every part of our state who are starting the New Year with comprehensive health care coverage. This shows that in Oregon we will not let barriers become blockades," Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a statement in a news release. "This new health care coverage will fundamentally improve Oregonians' lives, giving people coverage and security they have never had before. Additionally, new Oregon Health Plan members will have patient-focused coordinated care, with services designed to improve health, manage chronic conditions, and control costs."

More than 55,000 people shopped and purchased a private plan or enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan through Cover Oregon. Of those, about 20,000 people gained private coverage and more than 35,000 joined the Oregon Health Plan. Additionally, more than 114,500 people enrolled directly in the Oregon Health Plan through the Oregon Health Authority, according to the same news release.

The statement went on to say that Bruce Goldberg, M.D., acting director of Cover Oregon, acknowledged that the delayed launch of a fully functioning website means that applying for coverage hasn't been easy for everyone. Cover Oregon brings together 11 health insurance companies in one place.

"Today enrollment is a three-step process. First, customers apply online or by filling out a paper application. Second, Cover Oregon determines whether they are eligible for financial help and notifies them via phone, email and U.S. mail. Third, customers can go online to pick their plan and enroll."

Through it all, Nichols said he wasn't upset with Cover Oregon or DHS. He said he was disappointed in the governor.

"I'm really rather annoyed with the governor's arrogance that he hasn't gotten out in front of this thing. I think that's really bad in an election year for him to kind of snub the general public with this program," Nichols said.

So what does Kitzhaber have to say about all this? KATU's been working for weeks to get him to answer your questions about Cover Oregon.

We'll finally get some of those answers. Kitzhaber is holding a press conference about Cover Oregon Thursday morning. KATU will be sure to be there.

Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: