State granted one-month extension for Cover Oregon enrollment

State granted one-month extension for Cover Oregon enrollment »Play Video
FILE - In this March 20, 2014 file photo, Gov. John Kitzhaber speaks during a news conference in Salem, Ore. on Thursday, March 20, 2014 about the state's health insurance exchange. A state-funded audit found a 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 said he was angry and disappointed in a process that had caused so much confusion and uncertainty among consumers. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Kobbi R. Blair)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon residents will get an extra month to apply for private health insurance, Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Wednesday.

The federal government granted the state an extension through April 30. It means Oregonians must have their initial application faxed or postmarked by that date. They also must begin the process with a community agent. An agent is the only way applications may be submitted online.

Cover Oregon has had perhaps the worst rollout in the country, thanks in large part to a website that still isn’t functioning for the public nearly six months after it was scheduled to go live.

“I know that for too many Oregonians, the Cover Oregon website and its ongoing technical problems have created delays, confusion, and frustration,” Kitzhaber said in a press release.

Cover Oregon has budgeted $1 million for a new ad campaign with Portland-based agency North to spread word of the extension. It spent about $8.3 million on a feel-good campaign last year, which was suspended in December amid the website debacle.

Oregon was given the extension because website problems have stretched out the enrollment process.

People who apply through Cover Oregon before April 30 and later enroll will not be subject to a federal tax penalty. Those who apply to plans outside Cover Oregon between April 1 and April 30 will be subject to a partial penalty.

The deal also extends tax-credit eligibility for small businesses. Qualified businesses that buy a Cover Oregon-certified plan after April 1 will be able to get tax credits this year.

Last week, the state released its review of the botched website rollout and Kitzhaber announced that Dr. Bruce Goldberg had submitted his resignation as interim director.

Two key members of the staff are also departing the project in the wake of the review, a source confirmed to the On Your Side Investigators. COO Triz DelaRosa and CIO Aaron Karjala will step aside once their replacements have been found, a source confirmed to the On Your Side Investigators.

More time, same problems

Although the extension allows more time for people to sign up for health care coverage without facing a federal penalty at tax time next year, it doesn't mean Cover Oregon has worked out all the glitches.

Laura Sandgren thought she did everything right with plenty of time to get health care coverage through Cover Oregon by April 1, but like others, she’s run into problem after problem. Now, she still isn’t sure whether she’s enrolled.

“If most places ran their business like that, they'd be out of business,” Sandgren said about Cover Oregon.

She originally applied in mid-February but got a packet of possible plans back with wrong information about her address and income. When she called Cover Oregon, she was told to work with a Cover Oregon community agent. They reapplied online together March 7. They both thought she was set to get coverage by next month.

When Sandgren called to verify this week, a Cover Oregon representative told her she’s not enrolled as she thought.

“He said, ‘You have no coverage.  I don't even show you signed up for a plan,’” Sandgren said. “I did everything I was supposed to do, and I'm not sure what's going on.  I left a message with my community agent panicking.”

The agent was able to call “advanced support” and said Cover Oregon found Sandgren’s record and will be sending it to the insurance company. However, with no paperwork to show for it, Sandgren is still worried something is wrong.

At least with Wednesday’s extension announcement, she doesn’t have to wonder if she’ll be penalized if the state doesn’t have her application by next week, but she’s still worried about getting the health care she needs.

“It was their errors, not my errors,” she said. “I'm responsible for any bills that come in. I don't want to be walking across a crosswalk and get hit by a car, and have no health coverage.  I just don't want to take that chance.”