PORTLAND, Ore. -- There are new claims from Cover Oregon that the state health insurance website now accepts applications online. That's the message KATU News got from a spokesman when we asked for a status update on Wednesday.
After some testing, KATU News has determined it still isn’t possible to apply and enroll for health insurance—from start to finish—on the Cover Oregon website.
Michael Cox, spokesman for Cover Oregon wrote to KATU News in an email on Wednesday afternoon: “This is where I see a disconnect between your reporting and the customer experience. I get emails all the time from folks asking why the press says our website doesn’t work, or that they cannot enroll online. Their experience as a customer is using a website that ‘works’ and allows them to enroll online...A customer can go to CoverOregon.com, fill out an application and submit it online.”
On the surface, the claim that the website is accepting applications is different from what Cover Oregon has been telling the media and the public since September 30, 2013, when they announced the website wouldn’t work on October 1, 2013, the day it was supposed to go live. Cover Oregon has been encouraging people to apply with paper applications, available for download on line or at application fairs held around the state.
If you go to CoverOregon.com, and click on the blue “Apply Now” button, you end up on a second page with a green “Apply Now” button. Click on that button and a PDF form opens up. At the end of that form, there’s a blue “submit button.” Technically, by using that PDF form, and clicking the blue button, people can submit an application for health insurance on the Cover Oregon website.
Cox explained what happens with that PDF. He wrote, “We then determine their eligibility using the technology that will eventually be rolled out to all Oregonians. Once they receive their enrollment packet (in the mail), Oregonians can compare plans online. They can then enroll online. Many enrollees never fill out a piece of paper.”
Cox said the process to fill-out, and submit, a PDF application on line has been in place since October, 2013, the same month the website was supposed to be live and fully-functioning.
The part of the website that determines health insurance plan eligibility is not available to the public. Nor, does the PDF get processed in the Cover Oregon system the same way an application would if the website worked the way it was promised. That’s why Cover Oregon hired 400 people last fall to help process applications.
Cox called the current status of the website “a hybrid.” He wrote, “This is not the end-to-end portal” when pressed if the website really does accept applications on line.
Kate Westfall, a Tigard wife and mother of two, faxed her family’s PDF application to Cover Oregon in November 2013 instead of submitting it from the website. She said a month later she received enrollment information from Cover Oregon, but she noticed her six year-old son was left off of the family’s account. Her son is listed on the application she faxed to Cover Oregon.
Westfall has been trying to get that straightened out for nearly two months. She didn’t hear from anyone at Cover Oregon about it, nor could she reach them on the phone, until KATU News asked Cox about the family’s application status on Wednesday afternoon. Westfall said a Cover Oregon representative called her Wednesday evening, and has promised to get her more information within a week’s time.
Westfall said she believes it’s unfair that Cox is claiming people can submit applications online, when the website doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
“It's giving people a sense that they can just go on and in a week they can have insurance and here I've been waiting three months and I have nothing to show for it at all,” Westfall said.
It’s also important to note that those PDF applications can only be submitted by using the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser. Yet, Cox told KATU News that they have expanded the number of web browsers that support CoverOregon.com.
KATU News tested the application area of coveroregon.com on the Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers, which are two of the most popular free web browsers available. When accessed on either of those browsers, the application area on CoverOregon.com shows a yellow box with instructions that points the user to Internet Explorer or says to download a paper application and fax or mail it in. You cannot “submit” a PDF application on coveroregon.com when using Firefox or Google Chrome to access the website.
Cox said changes and fixes are being made daily to the Cover Oregon website, and he will let us know when fully “functionality” is available.