Portland tech company to governor: We can fix Cover Oregon's website

Portland tech company to governor: We can fix Cover Oregon's website

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A little-known Portland web developer wants to try and fix Cover Oregon's bungled website, which has become the most disastrous health insurance exchange rollout in the country. With just six days until the end of open enrollment, Oregonians still cannot self-enroll through the website, Cover Oregon.

The On Your Side Investigators learned tech company Metal Toad wrote Kitzhaber on Tuesday with a plan to build a new health insurance exchange with brand new technology. Metal Toad's founder and president, Joaquin Lippincott, said his team would build the new Cover Oregon site from the ground up, in a year's time, and for a fraction of the cost.

"I could build this website with this company of 30 people, and I know I could do this for $10 million, easily," Lippincott told KATU.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman with the governor's office, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, said she'd received "correspondence from Metal Toad" and would review the letter but wouldn't reveal the governor's long-term plans.

"Cover Oregon, with the help of an outside team of IT experts, is considering all options that offer the likelihood for additional success with enrolling Oregonians in affordable, high-quality heath insurance plans," Harmon Johnson said.

How will Metal Toad do it?

Lippincott believes he could deliver a new Cover Oregon site on time with more modern, sleeker, and less expensive technology known in the tech world as 'open source'. He says open source doesn't cost a dime to license.

"Open source powers whitehouse.gov, open source powers the Emmys, open source is going to be powering the NBA website," Lippincott said, citing examples of why he believes this kind of technology is where businesses are heading in the future.

In his letter to Kitzhaber, he wrote, "It is my fervent belief that if Oregon had used open source technology, the Cover Oregon launch would have been delivered on time at a fraction of the cost."

It's a vastly different approach than the technology used by Cover Oregon's main software developer, Oracle, which is known as 'enterprise ready'. Lippincott described Oracle's technology as outdated, difficult to customize and expensive to license.

"We're coming up on three years when, essentially they were selected (for the project), but they have been unable to deliver," Lippincott said.

It's unclear how much Cover Oregon paid in licensing fees, but the agency recently announced it was parting ways with Oracle and withholding $26 million of the $160 million billed by Oracle.

"A big chunk of that - and I don't know that it's fully disclosed - has gone simply for licensing what you could get for free," Lippincott said.

The exchange's website was so badly bungled that applications for a majority of open enrollment had to be processed manually, a process that remains partially in use. Cover Oregon admits the process led to a backlog of 10,000 applications and led to months-long wait times for Oregonians before they were enrolled for health insurance.

The Oregon Health Authority, the state department responsible for procuring Oracle and shepherding the creation of the site until it handed it off to Cover Oregon last summer, was given approximately $300 million in federal grant dollars to build the site. At last check, the On Your Side Investigators found the state spent $200 million and thousands of Oregonians still don't have health insurance who want it.

As of last week, 47,000 Oregonians had signed up for private insurance, less than a quarter of initial projections for the full enrollment period. 

"For Oracle, in terms of how their approach is, I don't know that they ever would be successful in that project," Lippincott said.

Why now?

Lippincott said he felt the need to speak up in light of the recent resignation of Cover Oregon acting director Bruce Goldberg and the previous resignation of Cover Oregon executive director, Rocky King.

Last week, Kitzhaber held a press conference announcing the results of the First Data investigation, the independent audit aimed at answering seven key questions about what went wrong with Cover Oregon's rollout. Among other things, the report blasted Oracle for shoddy work, missed deadlines and broken promises. It also found failure by the exchange's managers to heed reports of problems, poor communication and what it described as "unrealistic optimism."

In announcing results of the audit, Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said he was angry and disappointed in a process that had caused so much confusion and uncertainty among consumers.

Kitzhaber also announced that he was cleaning house, asking for resignations from Cover Oregon's acting director Bruce Goldberg as well as Cover Oregon's chief information and operations officers. Goldberg, who was head of the Oregon Health Authority while the website was being built, took over after Rocky King stepped aside in December. Goldberg will stay on until a replacement is found.

But Lippincott contends Oracle's business practices were just as much to blame - if not more - than the California tech giant's 'outdated' technology.

"That's the thing that I think is being missed in the resignations that are happening," Lippincott explained. "You have non-technical people who made some bad decisions in term of vendor selection who are being held up as accountable but, frankly, if we bring somebody else in and they hire the same vendor, or they hire a vendor who's cut from the same cloth in terms of 'enterprise ready' solutions, and not truly examining the companies that are in Portland - and in Oregon more broadly that are capable of delivering on this type of  scale, nothing's going to change,"

He added, "Yes, it's great they were held accountable, but let's do something different now."

Metal Toad's resume

From the outside it's hard to tell exactly where Metal Toad's downtown Portland office is located. But head inside a modest building on Southwest 3rd Avenue, up to the second floor, and you'll find the flourishing web development company that has been creating websites, building security updates - and most recently digital strategy and search engine optimization - for some of the biggest names in the business.

Metal Toad has built websites and applications for DC Comics, PBS, the Los Angeles Phil Harmonic Orchestra, Sony Pictures Television and others. The company's crown jewel is the Emmys.

"With the Emmys, we've handled traffic of 2.4 million page views over a span of four hours during their primetime event," Lippincott wrote in his letter to the governor. "Was it challenging to deliver on a drop-dead deadline with a huge spike in traffic? Absolutely. Was there any need for a closed-source technology solution? Not at all."

Lippincott said Metal Toad has managed the Emmy's website for five years and said it didn't once crash.

Money-back guarantee

In light of Cover Oregon's broken website, The On Your Side Investigators also asked Metal Toad about quality assurance controls and accountability in the event of damages from defects and delays. Lippincott said fixing any defects uncovered within a reasonable window, such as 90 days, would be included in this fixed-bid contract. 

He also said the cost for delays would ultimately be subjective. In a contract, the penalties (if any) for delays would need to be spelled out ahead of time.

Does Metal Toad's plan sound too good to be true? Metal Toad told the governor it's willing to put its money where its mouth is. If Metal Toad can't pull off the job in time, the company promises to give every cent back to Oregon taxpayers.

"A fixed-price bid, money back guarantee for a tenth of the cost that was spent and actually being able to deliver on time and doing what you're saying you're going to," Lippincott said. "I want to see those kinds of choices being made by the governor."

Read Lippincott's letter to the governor (pdf)


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website:

Watch: Your Voice Your Future Town Hall: Cover Oregon Cover Oregon confessions: Are they playing games with your health? New report answers many Cover Oregon questions - often for second time Cover Oregon directory Goldberg resigns; Governor releases investigation findings Cover Oregon: Still pushing for deadline extension Oregon tied for last in nation for young-adult health-insurance sign-ups Cover Oregon: Apply now if you want health insurance this year Federal government announces Cover Oregon investigation Former Cover Oregon director says 'all of us' share blame for failures Top Cover Oregon official refuses to discuss Lawson resignation Official: Oracle not allowing Cover Oregon probe access to 6 employees Trouble with Cover Oregon? You may still get federal tax credits Cover Oregon website developer pulls 100 worker off project Ex-Cover Oregon website chief: 'I stuck to the talking points ... they were not accurate' High-level IT consultant on Cover Oregon: 'They didn't know what they were doing' New Cover Oregon allegations: 'If it's true, someone's going to prison.' Paging Dr. Kitzhaber: What did the governor know about Cover Oregon collapse? State rep., U.S. Senate candidate calls for the end of Cover Oregon Cover Oregon head: State might scrap all or part of failing website State lawmakers to grill Cover Oregon chief Family struggles to sign up for insurance through Cover Oregon First legal complaint filed over health enrollment mistakes Democratic state lawmaker believes Cover Oregon can be saved Contractor plans to examine why Cover Oregon failed 'We look like fools:' A history of Cover Oregon's failure State rep: Ditch Cover Oregon in favor of federal exchange Video: Exclusive Interview: Gov. John Kitzhaber - Cover Oregon 1/9/2014 Gov. denies prior knowledge of Cover Oregon failure, exits exclusive KATU interview Kitzhaber outlines Cover Oregon's next steps: 'I can't give you a date' Kitzhaber: Firm will review Cover Oregon failures Cover Oregon applications left in limbo? Man with cancer waiting on Cover Oregon, gets insured Man with cancer still waiting on Cover Oregon New calls for Cover Oregon to take responsibility for project failures Rocky King, director of troubled Cover Oregon, resigns Salem man says Cover Oregon error left him in health care limbo Some question if they'll be covered by Cover Oregon in the new year What doomed Cover Oregon? 'Mismanagement,' say former employees After resigning, Lawson not talking about Cover Oregon website failures Ore. health official in charge of building Cover Oregon website resigns Fewer enrollments challenge Oregon exchange budget Executive director of Cover Oregon taking medical leave Cover Oregon considers new solutions Kitzhaber calls for independent review of Cover Oregon New emails show Cover Oregon unraveling in days before launch Emails: Cover Oregon executive knew about website problems in May Cover Oregon complicated by state's grand vision