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KATU Investigators

New calls for Cover Oregon to take responsibility for project failures

New calls for Cover Oregon to take responsibility for project failures

PORTLAND, Ore. -- There are new calls for Cover Oregon to take responsibility for a health insurance website that doesn't work. Those come in the wake of a permanent change in leadership.
Rocky King took a leave of absence for medical reasons from his position as Cover Oregon’s executive director on December 2, 2013. 

"No one's talked to me about stepping down. So far, everyone's supported me," King told KATU after he made the announcement.

Critics speculated then that his decision to step down had less to do with his health, and more to do with emails uncovered by KATU's On Your Side Investigators, revealing King knew in May 2013 that the website would fail.

King officially resigned in an email to the chair of Cover Oregon’s board, Elizabeth Baxter, on January 1, 2014. 

"As you know, this was not an easy decision for me. However, with the uncertainty of my health it is the most logical,” King wrote.

KATU asked Baxter for an interview at 5 p.m. on Thursday to discuss King’s departure, the status of efforts to get the health insurance exchange website working, and problem’s that KATU has uncovered with some of the paper applications entered in Cover Oregon’s system by hand. Baxter backed out of the interview an hour later, part of a trend of people in charge avoiding KATU’s questions.

Baxter provided KATU News with an email she sent to Cover Oregon staff Thursday afternoon that the board is working on finding King’s replacement. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Dr. Bruce Goldberg was appointed interim executive director of Cover Oregon in December. 

One of Cover Oregon's latest critics is Allen Alley, a Republican who has worked for Governor Kitzhaber and Governor Kulongski in the past.

"It is a massive failure and people need to stand up and be accountable for it,” said Alley.

Answers about who's really accountable for the Cover Oregon failures have been hard to come by.
Not only did the board chair back out on interview Thursday, OHA, which now oversees Cover Oregon has been dodging KATU News for the last month. 

The woman who was behind the development of the website, OHA’s Chief Information Officer, Carolyn Lawson, also resigned last month. She didn't want to answer questions when a KATU crew showed up at her house.

KATU has also requested a sit-down interview with Governor Kitzhaber a half-dozen times in the past three weeks, and have been denied each time. He called for an independent review of Cover Oregon on December 16, 2013, which, according to his spokesperson, has not yet gotten underway.

"If I was Governor Kitzhaber, I would be in here, I'd be talking to you right now having a discussion about it because you need to be open,” said Alley. "It's just raising speculation about what on earth really is going on. Are there other things that they haven't disclosed?"

Cover Oregon's next board meeting is next week.

Email from Elizabeth Baxter to Cover Oregon staff:

Good afternoon,

I wanted to let you know that I received notice from Rocky yesterday that he is resigning his position as CEO of Cover Oregon at the end of his medical leave, March 5th. The message below was just sent to the staff, and it is followed by Rocky’s message to me.

The Search Committee, which had issued an RFP for search firms last week, will meet prior to our board meeting next week. On the 9th the board will get an update on the process toward selection of the firm, and adjust the scope from looking for an interim to looking for a replacement will be laid out.

I appreciate the work that you you have all put into your role as Cover Oregon board members, and I will keep the board updated as the search process moves forward. If you have any questions please feel free to give me a call.

Around 130,000 Oregonians have coverage this week who were not able to have it last week. That is amazing, and a testament to the work accomplished in spite of the technical challenges along the way.

Thank you and happy new year. 


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