Kitzhaber outlines Cover Oregon's next steps: 'I can't give you a date'

Kitzhaber outlines Cover Oregon's next steps: 'I can't give you a date'
Gov. John Kitzhaber spoke about Cover Oregon during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9. (KATU photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. John Kitzhaber said on Thursday morning that the state has no idea when its troubled Cover Oregon website will be fully functional.

"I can’t give you a date, but we are confident we’ll get it up and running," he said at a news conference. "I can’t give you a date. I don’t have one."

Kitzhaber pointed to the latest enrollment numbers for Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange, showcasing the 170,000 people who have enrolled through Cover Oregon or the Oregon Health Plan.

But he also acknowledged the momentous difficulty the state has had getting its website functional.

He said First Data has been hired to do an independent assessment of the process. That will in part determine whether the state will file a lawsuit against Oracle, the company contracted to handle much of the technical side of the project.

He also pointed to a shakeup in leadership, with Bruce Goldberg taking over as Cover Oregon Project Manager after Rocky King stepped aside last month, and the departure of Carolyn Lawson as Chief Information Officer.

"We’ve made the appropriate management changes at Cover Oregon," Kitzhaber said.

For his part, Goldberg said the exchange is working to deal with the scores of people who have tried and failed to buy coverage, saying dealing with 170,000 application has produced a lag-time similar to those seen in other states.

Goldberg said the state has looked at trying to tie in with the federal government's website, or those of other states, but that it's difficult to do so at this stage.

So, for the forseeable future, Oregonians will be left to continue using a manual paper process to apply.

When that will change appears to be anybody's guess.

"We’ve had many dates in the past that have come and gone and I don’t think they’ve served any purpose," Goldberg said.

New figures released this week show that Cover Oregon has so far enrolled about 20,000 people in private insurance for January coverage. That's far below original projections.

In addition, more than 35,000 Oregonians who applied through Cover Oregon joined the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid.

And more than 114,000 people enrolled directly in the state health plan by using a streamlined process that bypasses Cover Oregon.

The low private insurance enrollment numbers have been blamed on the online enrollment system's failure to go live. Oregonians have had to rely exclusively on paper applications and Cover Oregon hired or reassigned nearly 500 people to process applications by hand.


Watch the entire news conference in three parts:

Part 1 - Kitzhaber's opening statement

Part 2 - Small business owner and family qualifies for insurance

Part 3 - Question and answer session with reporters:


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: