Cover Oregon: Still pushing for deadline extension

Cover Oregon: Still pushing for deadline extension »Play Video

DURHAM, Ore. -- If you still need health insurance through Cover Oregon, it's better to apply sooner than later.

New concerns swirled this week that Cover Oregon would not get the extension it asked the federal government for in order to give Oregonians more time to enroll for coverage beyond the March 31 deadline.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and Cover Oregon interim director Bruce Goldberg both asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for an extension in January, which asked to push open enrollment until the end of April.

The request came after one of the most embarrassing state health insurance exchange rollouts in the country. More than four months after its Oct. 1, 2013 launch date, Oregon's website, Coveroregon.com, doesn't allow individuals to enroll themselves for insurance online. When it became clear the broken website was going to put enrollments in jeopardy, the state resorted to hiring more than 400 people to process health insurance applications on paper.

Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said during a media conference call Tuesday - which included Sebelius - that the enrollment deadline would not budge.

"We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period. Open enrollment extends March 31 and in fact, we don't have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014."

In the call, the feds spoke about deadlines with health insurance exchanges in general, not Oregon specifically. The On Your Side Investigators called both CMS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for clarification but neither agency responded by late Wednesday evening.

The news didn't seem to deter the governor's office or Cover Oregon.

"Our understanding is that the comments made on the conference call by HHS yesterday are not relevant to our specific request," Cox said. "Our work with our partners here in state, our insurers, our partners in the federal government to try to get folks more time to apply and enroll in coverage, those conversations are ongoing."

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, a spokeswoman at the governor's office echoed those sentiments in an email to KATU. She said, unless the governor's office hears back from CMS or HHS, they're still pushing for the extension.

"We continue to work and plan to see if there's a way that we can get folks to sign up and enroll," Cox said.

As a point of reference, Massachusetts was granted a three-month extension of the deadline, until June 30, because problems with that state's website had left it with a backlog of 50,000 unprocessed applications. The Massachusetts site was incompatible with some browsers, is plagued with error messages and sluggish operation, and sometimes shuts down completely. Massachusetts heard back from the feds within a week.

The On Your Side Investigators also spoke with a woman Wednesday who's been waiting four months for coverage through Cover Oregon. She did not want to share her name but said she was self-employed, on a limited income and spent $400 a month on medications without insurance.

"I think it's ridiculous," she said.

The viewer joins thousands of Oregonians who are trying to enroll in President Barack Obama's federally mandated health care coverage and are concerned, if their application is not processed in time, that they'll be left in the lurch.
 
"Frustrated, very frustrated since I worked with a rep and she assured me everything was fine," the woman said.

The On Your Side Investigators asked Cox if Cover Oregon would guarantee coverage to those who applied before the March 31 deadline. He stopped short of making a guarantee but said "We're making every effort that those who applied for coverage through Cover Oregon do have the opportunity to enroll."


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: