Colossal cost of Cover Oregon prompts lawmaker to call for end to spending

Colossal cost of Cover Oregon prompts lawmaker to call for end to spending »Play Video
FILE -- State Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, (right) announces his plan in the House Interim Committee on Health Care at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, to allow Oregonians to buy health insurance plans directly from insurance companies and have those companies check for eligibility at the federal level. He said Monday that the spending should stop to fix Cover Oregon's broken website.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The On Your Side Investigators revealed the colossal cost of Cover Oregon for the first time Monday and it shows how much of your tax money has been spent on the failed website.

KATU learned Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority collectively spent just shy of $200 million on its Cover Oregon website, which has been plagued with problems for months and still hasn't enrolled a single Oregonian for health insurance since the site launched Oct. 1, 2013.

The state health insurance exchange's top dogs have been back and forth for months, extending the date when the website likely could be fixed. As of last week, Cover Oregon's interim director, Bruce Goldberg, said there's no specific deadline for when the website will be fully operational.

Lawmakers, like Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, are growing impatient.

Conger sits on the House Interim Committee on Health Care and last week grilled Goldberg about Cover Oregon - a project he referred to as a "train wreck." In the hearing, Conger also asked Goldberg for a breakdown of taxpayer dollars spent on Cover Oregon to date.

Once Goldberg collected the numbers for Conger, he sent them to him in an email. Conger then shared Cover Oregon's whopping $200 million price tag exclusively with the On Your Side Investigators Monday.

"It's an enormous amount of money expended over a couple of years to build a website that doesn't work," Conger told KATU in a Skype interview Monday. "It doesn't make sense to throw good money after bad and just waste that money on something that us ultimately, maybe doomed to fail."

According to Goldberg, Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) - the state agency which helped develop the IT system - collectively received $305,206,587 of federal grant money for the health insurance exchange. Those grants were to last Cover Oregon from Sept. 30, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2014.

So far, Cover Oregon and OHA have spent two thirds of that money on the exchange, which amounts to $199,199,688.

That leaves $106,006,899 for the remainder of 2014 to fix a broken website and enroll thousands more Oregonians.

"We've already burned through 200 million dollars," Conger told KATU. "We've got just over 100 million dollars left. Do we spend that money to continue to try to fix a website that so far has been a lot of promises and no results, or do we send that money back and start looking at alternatives to people who might need health insurance?"

Last week, Conger announced to KATU that he has plans for another alternative. He crafted a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber, urging him to scrap Cover Oregon in favor of a new plan where Oregonians would enroll directly through insurance companies. He said, his plan would call on insurance companies to check for subsidies at the federal level.

In the letter, which he emailed to Kitzhaber, Conger wrote, "I have no confidence that many of the same individuals, agencies and companies that presided over this on-going disaster are in a position to salvage the state website. Indeed, I don't believe they should be afforded yet another chance to fail - I have simply lost faith in this whole project."

The governor has not responded yet.

The On Your Side Investigators contacted Cover Oregon for comment. Spokesman Michael Cox responded with an email statement saying, "Cover Oregon is fully funded by federal grants through the end of 2014, at which time we must be self sufficient.  We will prudently use these funds to achieve our mission of enrolling Oregonians in affordable health coverage and complete the IT build."

Cox did not answer follow-up questions or elaborate.

Oregonians have until the end of March to get signed up for health insurance this year.

It's important to note, Conger is running for a U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Jeff Merkley.

 Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website:

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