State rep., U.S. Senate candidate calls for the end of Cover Oregon

State rep., U.S. Senate candidate calls for the end of Cover Oregon »Play Video
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.

SALEM, Ore. – State Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, added his name Wednesday to the list of politicians who want to ditch the state’s problem-plagued health insurance exchange.

He called on Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber to shut down Cover Oregon and he spared no words.

“We put our trust in your administration to execute a functional healthcare exchange and you have failed,” he said in an open letter to the governor. “It is unacceptable to waste more taxpayer money on a failed system that will never work as promised."

Conger, who has declared he will run for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, is the latest Oregon lawmaker to call for the end of Cover Oregon.

Conger voted to create the exchange in 2011. But he said during a hearing before the House Interim Committee on Health Care on Wednesday that he's "lost faith" that the problems can be fixed.

Last week Republican state representative and gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson said he’ll introduce a plan in the February legislative session to end Cover Oregon and replace it with the federal exchange.

At least one Democratic lawmaker has come to the defense of Cover Oregon and believes it still can be fixed.

State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who represents Northwest Portland and Beaverton, told KATU News Monday that while she’s frustrated with Cover Oregon she’s not ready to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

She said the focus right now needs to be getting the website fixed.

No one has been able to buy insurance through the website because of technical glitches, and the state has resorted to processing applications by hand.

At least 170,000 people now have health insurance through that process.

As for Conger, he wrote to Kitzhaber that he has “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."

He said the federal money given to Oregon for its exchange and any of it that is recovered should be returned to help pay down the national debt. 

Conger proposed allowing Oregonians to buy health insurance plans directly from insurance companies and have those companies check for eligibility at the federal level.

Earlier in the day during testimony before the Joint Committee on Legislative Audits, Information Management and Technology, interim Cover Oregon director Bruce Goldberg acknowledged that all or part of Cover Oregon might need to be replaced.

“We need to start looking at – beyond March – what are our contingencies,” he said. “Be that other state systems or parts of the federal system to help with open enrollment. I don’t think we are at the point in time to make that decision, but we need to begin to make that plan.”

The governor’s office didn't return phones calls Wednesday seeking comment on Conger's letter.


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: