State rep: Ditch Cover Oregon in favor of federal exchange

State rep: Ditch Cover Oregon in favor of federal exchange »Play Video
FILE - Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, appears on KATU's "Your Voice, Your Vote" Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Republican state representative and Oregon gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson says he's going to introduce legislation in February’s legislative session to dismantle the state's troubled health insurance exchange and replace it with the federal exchange, he said Friday in a news release.

"Cover Oregon has made us the laughingstock of the nation by failing to deliver a working health insurance marketplace – despite spending $140 million on the project," Richardson said.

Richardson has declared his intention to run for governor this year. Current Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has also said he’ll run for an unprecedented fourth term. He has come under fire for the launch of the Cover Oregon website that has left the state to process applications by hand.

Richardson said his legislation will be an amendment to West Linn/Tualatin Republican Rep. Julie Parrish’s bill, which would require lawmakers and the governor to buy insurance from the exchange.

Richardson's amendment would "mothball the failed state project and join 33 other states that opted to participate in the Federal exchange."

"The national problem has been repaired," Richardson told KATU News in a phone interview shortly after he issued his press release. "Cover Oregon has no estimate of when it'll be up and running. They just want to keep spending more money on a failed system. And it's redundant now to what the federal government is already providing."

When questioned about whether it is possible for Oregon to switch to the federal exachange, Richardson admitted he didn't know.

“I don’t know if it’s possible or not. That’s why we have a governor. He should be telling us what he’s done to try and save resources for the state and try and get the insurance policies to our citizens without them having to sharpen a number two pencil. ... As a legislator, you propose a bill and then you have hearings. That’s how you find these things out. Merely making a proposal does not mean that you’ve done all the research.”

In his news release Richardson referenced KATU's Thursday interview with Kitzhaber where the governor denied prior knowledge of problems with Cover Oregon specifically raised by former Republican state Rep. Patrick Sheehan. Sheehan had sent the governor's office an email outlining his concerns months before the website was to go online.

During Thursday's interview, Kitzhaber denied seeing the email.

"It had (the email) come to my office, but I didn't see it," Kitzhaber said.

After answering that question, an aid to the governor limited a KATU reporter to one more question.

Richardson said that when Kitzhaber claims he didn't know about the extent of the Cover Oregon problems until October 2013, Richardson said "he may have a short memory."

Richardson said he had a conversation with the governor in September of 2012 after a quality assessment report said the Cover Oregon project was in crisis. He said the governor told him "his people would take care of that."

KATU put in a call into the governor's office but it did not respond Friday night.

The Associated Press reported it was referred to Kitzhaber's campaign, which had no immediate comment.


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: