Tech expert: It's no surprise that Cover Oregon website is glitchy too

Tech expert: It's no surprise that Cover Oregon website is glitchy too »Play Video
The homepage of Cover Oregon's website.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon's new health insurance exchange website, part of President Obama's plan to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, wasn't ready for prime time, according to a local tech expert.

Applicants are supposed to be able to use the Cover Oregon website to get information about plans, but at this point it isn't reliable enough to tell them which specific plans and subsidies they are eligible for.

Experts say the state has a long history of major problems when it comes to big technical launches. We sat down with Michael O'Mara, who has been in the IT field for over 30 years and has worked at various state agencies along the way. He and his wife support the president's healthcare law, but he doubts Oregonians will be able to sign up online anytime soon.

O'Mara has spent hours on Cover Oregon's website trying to navigate his way around, without much luck. He says when he calls the technical support line, it's as if the people being called experts don't know what they are talking about.

O'Mara says the state has a terrible record of bungling big projects like this. He cites the problems the DMV had a few years ago with their new software systems. O'Mara says the state simply has no excuse.

"You would think that with today's technology, that with four years, they would have been able to get something up and running," he said.

O'Mara and his wife both have pre-existing conditions with no insurance, so he is even more invested in the site working properly.

We talked with the folks running Cover Oregon and they admit they are behind schedule. But they say they are confident the site will be fully functional in a few weeks.

In the meantime, people are signing up the old-fashioned way by printing out a form and faxing it in. More than 4,000 Oregonians have enrolled that way.

There are an estimated 600,000 people in Oregon who lack health insurance. So far, the website has received more than 470,000 unique visitors and the Cover Oregon office has gotten more than 20,000 phone calls.

During hearings Thursday in Washington, D.C., the tech professionals behind the national website were grilled by a House Committee. Contractors who built the web portal for the Obama administration's health insurance marketplace said the site's crippling problems trace back to insufficient testing and changes that government officials made just prior to going live.

The first congressional hearing into what went wrong dug into issues of website architecture and testing protocols - but also re-stoked the partisan battle over President Barack Obama's signature expansion of health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Republicans who've been trying to kill the program the past three years sounded outraged that it is being poorly carried out, while Democrats jeered them as political hypocrites.

What was clear after more than four hours of testimony was that the contractors had only partial answers, and only the Obama administration can eventually put the entire picture together to explain the botched rollout.

Better times are coming, said executives from CGI Federal, which built the website serving 36 states, and from QSSI, which created a component that helps verify applicants' incomes and other personal details. They said problems are being fixed daily and expressed optimism that anybody who wants coverage will able to get it by Jan. 1.

"The system is working, people are enrolling," said CGI vice president Cheryl Campbell. "But people will be able to enroll at a faster pace."

Asked for a timetable, she side-stepped, saying: "I don't like to raise expectations."