Oregon Legislature advances two Cover Oregon bills

Oregon Legislature advances two Cover Oregon bills

SALEM, Ore. - Two bills related to Cover Oregon are moving forward in the Oregon Legislature - one of which calls for the kind of oversight that was already in place during the development of the still-unfinished website.

The Senate voted Tuesday to require that large information technology projects have an outside quality assurance contractor.

But, as the On Your Side Investigators detailed in a report earlier this year, Cover Oregon had a quality-assurance contractor in place called Maximus that spelled out the problems and dangers of the project from the start.

The recommendations and warnings often went unheeded, and Maximus frequently found itself at odds with management at the Oregon Health Authority.

"This bill will not hold anyone accountable, anyone responsible for the next IT debacle," said Sen. Doug Whitsett, a Republican from Klamath Falls who voted against the bill. "It is a step in the right direction, but it will not prevent the next IT disaster."
           
The measure, HB 4122, passed the Senate 25-5, sending it back to the House, which approved it last month but must sign off on changes made in the Senate. The bill would require technology projects costing more than $5 million to have an independent contractor evaluate the plans and report its findings to the Department of Administrative Services.

The House, on the other hand, approved a separate measure, HB 4154, that would order Cover Oregon to seek flexibility from the federal government to ensure people don't face penalties or miss out on federal subsidies because of the struggles with Cover Oregon.
            
Cover Oregon would be required to seek a one-month extension of the deadline for people to sign up for health insurance before they incur a fine. It also would require the state to seek federal permission for Oregon residents to earn tax credits if they purchase coverage directly from an insurance company.

Cover Oregon, however, is already in discussion with the feds.

Interim director Bruce Goldberg said on Monday that Cover Oregon has asked the federal government for permission to move back the state's enrollment deadline to the end of April as it continues to work on the problematic website.

The Obama administration said last week it would grant tax credits to people who went around the exchange. Even so, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, said it's important for the Oregon Legislature to put its support on the record.
           
The measure also would give the governor temporary authority to fire the entire Cover Oregon board. It passed the House in a 56-2 vote, sending it to the Senate.
           
The sponsor, Democratic Rep. Shemia Fagan of Clackamas, acknowledged that her bill won't completely fix the problems of the past or ensure repeats are prevented, but she said it would still provide some measure of relief to Oregonians.

"This bill is not a time machine," she said. "We can't hop in this bill and turn back the dial and change how Cover Oregon was rolled out. It was nothing short of an embarrassment for the state we all love."

Cover Oregon's online enrollment system was not ready to launch on schedule in October, creating massive headaches for people trying to sign up for insurance under the new federal health care law. The state said this week it would pay $44 million of the $70 million it's withheld from the main technology contractor, Oracle Corp