State rep. raised red flags months before Cover Oregon site failed to deliver

State rep. raised red flags months before Cover Oregon site failed to deliver »Play Video
Former Republican state Rep. Patrick Sheehan raised red flags about how Cover Oregon's website was being developed months before it became known the site didn't work.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Months after the launch of Cover Oregon's struggling health insurance exchange, built by software company Oracle, leaders of the website are in talks with Oracle competitors to find solutions for the problem-plagued site.

Some say it shows an increased desperation to get President Barack Obama's federally mandated health care overall up and running. Despite a grand vision, an earlier start and millions of dollars from the government, the project has been in shambles for months. More than two months after its Oct. 1 launch date, Oregon's online enrollment system still hasn't enrolled a single person online.
 
Cover Oregon staffers resorted to hiring more than 400 people to process health insurance applications the old fashioned way, on paper.
 
Desperate to find a solution
 
Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox confirmed officials have renewed discussions with several software companies they'd considered in the past, including Boston-based software company Exeter Group.
 
"There are a lot of vendors in IT that have contacted us with what they feel are potential solutions. We'd be foolish not to listen to them," Cox told the On Your Side Investigators.
 
According to Exeter Senior Vice President of Global Field Operations, Matt Cahir, Exeter's software was looked at by Cover Oregon at least five different times including once this week.
 
Cahir said the bulk of the live demonstrations and presentations for the software were in 2012 but so far Cover Oregon has not purchased any new software.
 
Other states are already using it to help run their federally mandated insurance exchanges, including in Vermont and Hawaii.
 
Forecasting failure
 
Exeter Group is the same technology company that former state Rep. Patrick Sheehan, R-Clackamas, championed more than a year ago.
 
Sheehan sat on the Joint Legislative Audits and Information Management and Technology Committee, which helped oversee the creation of the budding health care exchange, Cover Oregon.
 
Sheehan, who left office early this year after he was defeated in his re-election bid by Democrat Shemia Fagen, raised questions early on about the high costs of computer software as well Carolyn Lawson's single-minded determination to build the most complex health insurance exchange in the country.
 
Lawson was the Chief Information Officer for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Department of Human Services (DHS), responsible for overseeing the creation of the technology for Cover Oregon.
 
She resigned Thursday for "personal reasons," which followed months of scrutiny about her role in the debacle.
 
"I did call this," Sheehan said. 'I saw this train coming, and I watched as Carolyn Lawson made these decisions and now it's finally - it looks like it's finally cost her her job. A year late, I think."
 
In a Dec. 11, 2012 committee hearing, Sheehan repeatedly asked why the state insisted on building a website from scratch using Oracle products instead of licensing a ready-built exchange - like Exeter - for a fraction of the cost. He said he was repeatedly rebuffed by Lawson who claimed Exeter did not have the products the state needed it to do. She said those systems hadn't been released, tested or tried.
 
In that 2012 hearing Lawson stated "(Exeter software) does not include the business requirements of Cover Oregon in the unique way we're working with it here in the state of Oregon. Again it looks beautiful, but our evaluation found it fell short in many ways."
 
But Sheehan contends those were lies.
 
Sheehan said he'd seen a live demonstration of how Exeter's ready-build exchanged worked.
 
In that same hearing, Sheehan said, "Are you aware of any software that does this? And I've been asking the question for nine months and we find out that not only were you aware of software, you've actually been in contact with the company for 12 months."
 
 
In the email, obtained by the On Your Side Investigators, he wrote "Carolyn Lawson has presented fraudulent testimony in a legislative hearing to further her self-interest - I believe in pursuit of a consulting job with Oracle."
 
He continued that Lawson should be "terminated for openly lying to a legislative committee and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."
 
A staffer at the governor's office promised that his concerns would "get into the right hands," including the governor. Asked about Lawson's resignation, the governor's office said it would not comment on personnel issues.
 
"It doesn't give me any joy to say 'I told you so' but we need to hold these people accountable," Sheehan said.