Gov. denies prior knowledge of Cover Oregon failure, exits exclusive KATU interview

Gov. denies prior knowledge of Cover Oregon failure, exits exclusive KATU interview »Play Video
Gov. John Kitzhaber leaves an interview with KATU's Hillary Lake on Thursday.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Gov. John Kitzhaber’s staff hastily ended his scheduled one-on-one interview with KATU News on Thursday morning barely four minutes after it had begun when KATU began asking about problems with Cover Oregon's website.

>>Watch the interview

Kitzhaber was in Portland to discuss Cover Oregon’s new enrollment numbers even as he admitted the exchange’s costly and all-important website will likely not be functioning for the foreseeable future.

Despite the website’s disastrous launch – it was set to go live Oct. 1 – and  KATU's numerous reports of botched enrollments, Kitzhaber claimed Cover Oregon is actually outperforming expectations.

“We figured that this would be a two-year process,” Kitzhaber said. “What we didn’t anticipate was actually this many (people enrolling).

“We thought it was going to take a year to get the 114,000 people who are eligible for the expansion under the (Affordable Care Act), so that was remarkable.”

The interview was cut short, however, soon after KATU asked about Kitzhaber’s knowledge of problems with Carolyn Lawson. Lawson, who as Chief Information Officer was responsible for the website’s technical development, resigned for “personal reasons” in November.

The governor claimed he didn’t know of problems with Lawson until late last year.

“In late October was when I first learned about the problems,” said Kitzhaber.

But in December 2012, 10 months before Kitzhaber said he first heard of the problems with the Cover Oregon website, Rep. Patrick Sheehan sent an email to the governor’s office warning him of problems, specifically with Lawson.  KATU's Investigators recently unearthed that message.  Sheehan was a member of the legislative oversight committee for Cover Oregon.

In the email, Sheehan questioned Lawson’s decision-making, accused her of presenting fraudulent testimony in a legislative hearing and speculated about her ties to Oracle, the company paid tens of millions of dollars to help with the project’s technical aspects.

On Thursday, Kitzhaber denied having seen the email, despite his legislative director having responded to it, “You have raised some serious allegations, and I will make sure that we get his into the right hands in addition to the Governor.”

Kitzhaber told KATU on Thursday that the allegations never made it to his desk.

“It had (the email) come to my office, but I didn’t see it," Kitzhaber said.

After Kitzhaber gave that answer, his aid limited KATU to one more question.

A spokesman for the governor called KATU on Thursday afternoon to say the interview was cut short for time, not because of tough questions, and that he was trying to keep the governor on schedule.

KATU contacted Sheehan Thursday afternoon about the governor's claim.

"Well that's disappointing. The Legislature is the eyes and ears of the people, and when a legislator brings something like that up with all those red flags, the governor should pay attention," Sheehan said.

Sheehan went on to say that he doesn't believe Kitzhaber never got the information.

"This is the method that you get something to the governor, in the rare instance that you need to get something to him," Sheehan said.

KATU’s initial attempt to interview Cover Oregon Project Manager Bruce Goldberg was also thwarted. When approached by KATU, Goldberg quickly ducked into a restricted area of the clinic where the press conference was held.

His staff ordered KATU to leave, suggesting our crew instead make a phone call to Cover Oregon’s public-relations staff.

Later in the day, KATU tracked down Goldberg at a Cover Oregon board meeting and spoke to him exclusively.

Bruce Goldberg Interview: Oregonians should get an apology

In that interview, Goldberg confirmed to KATU in previous emails that he was aware of some of the problems related to Oracle. So why didn't Cover Oregon cut its losses?

"I think at this point, as you've seen, states have been working for several years to get to where they are and so we're close and we're using parts of the technology and we're hoping that over the coming weeks we can get the website up and operational," Goldberg said.

But that would still be too late for the thousands of Oregonians who submitted applications in time for coverage this month – applications that have been caught in the massive processing backlog. The earliest they can get coverage now is Feb. 1.

The On Your Side Investigators asked if Goldberg felt Oregonians were deserving of an apology.

"I do," Goldberg said. "I've publicly said that we are not happy with where we are. Certainly, I've apologized to individuals to take responsibility for fixing this and turning it around."

With no deadline in sight, what happens if Cover Oregon can't get the website to function by the end of March, the deadline for open enrollment?

"Right now we're able to use portions of the website and portions of the technology to enroll people," Goldberg said. "We've enrolled 50,000 people through our process so we think we have the ability to continue to enroll people through open enrollment."
KATU reached out to Oracle but it did not return messages.

On Your Side Investigator Chelsea Kopta contributed to this report.

Watch the interview:

Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: