Salem man says Cover Oregon error left him in health care limbo

Salem man says Cover Oregon error left him in health care limbo »Play Video
Hal Demarest goes over all the medications he needs because he was only born with one kidney and has a host of medical problems. He says someone at Cover Oregon made a mistake on his application, which has left him in health care limbo.

SALEM, Ore. -- Hal Demarest can talk prescription medications like a pro. He's not a pharmacist. He's retired. His know-how is a necessity since he was born with only one kidney and the costly medications help with a slew of medical problems, which he desperately needs insurance to pay for.

"I have gout, I have high blood pressure, I have high cholesterol, I have diabetes - Type 2 diabetes - all caused by having one kidney which only works 60 percent of the time," Demarest said.

Demarest is one of thousands of Oregonians trying to enroll for President Barack Obama's federally mandated health care coverage in a state that's had one of the worst rollouts in the country.

Despite a grand vision, an earlier start and millions of dollars from the government, Oregon's health insurance exchange website, Cover Oregon, has been in shambles for months. More than three 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. That's exactly what Demarest did.

In November, Demarest filled out an application, in person, with the help of Cover Oregon staffers. His application receipt shows he earns $400 a month or $4,800 a year.

Salary is important on Cover Oregon applications: the lower the income, the higher the subsidies and tax breaks applicants can apply for.

But he said someone at Cover Oregon mistakenly marked $75,000 a year on his application instead.

"Along the way if you make a mistake, how simple is it to look at this application and say, 'Oh yeah, that's wrong,'" Demarest said.

It wasn't until a month later that Demarest discovered the error when he said he received his Cover Oregon packet of materials. That's when he realized the error disqualified him from the subsidies and tax breaks for health insurance, which he said he couldn't otherwise afford.

"It's the law, and if its the law, let's make it work right and if you can't make it work right, something's wrong - something's bad wrong," he said.

Demarest said he made lots of follow-up calls to Cover Oregon but was told, in order to fix his application, he'd have to appeal it. He said that appeal is now sitting before a review board which won't look at it until later this month.

"Until they get everybody's application looked at, they're not going to make a review that they've already made a decision on," Demarest said.

It's a wait Demarest believes will cost him his vital medications.

"I'm angry. I won't say the word I was thinking, I'm just angry," he said. "It's silly, it's absolutely silly - to use a nice word - it's absolutely silly they can't put someone in charge of the reviews and they're going to have problems. Who's overlooking this?"

The On Your Side Investigators spoke with Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox about these concerns but was told, because of the holiday, that no call centers were open. Therefore, Cox said, no one could confirm anything about Demarest's application. Cox did say that he would look into the matter when the phones re-opened on Thursday.

KATU will be checking back in first thing Thursday.


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: