Top Democrat calls out Cover Oregon leaders over failures

Top Democrat calls out Cover Oregon leaders over failures »Play Video
FILE -- Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

SALEM, Ore. -- For the first time, one of Oregon's top Democrats put his foot down Friday about the failure of the state's health insurance exchange website.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, called out the people in charge of Cover Oregon, asking them to immediately ask the Legislature for help during the February session.

"I don't want to hear in the last moment, I don't want February to come and go and you say, oh we should have used you. Governor. Executive branch. DAS. Oracle. Goldberg. Bonetto. Whatever your names are. I'm telling you, you better tell me that you need something right now,” said Courtney in a phone interview.

Courtney said seeing Cover Oregon in the state it's in is painful. He said he's furious about what's happened, and after the health care exchange is fixed, the people who are responsible for mismanaging it need to be held accountable. The state must make sure something like this never happens again.

"If anybody's playing politics with this they ought to be ashamed of themselves," Courtney said. "I'll tell you why. It's cute to play politics. The problem is nothing terrified a young couple or a senior citizen living alone in her home or his home, and then medical bills, not being able to provide medical bills scares the hell out of them. And, that should be the bottom line."

The senator told KATU News he had a difficult conversation with Gov. John Kitzhaber about the failure. He told the governor he better make sure he hires someone qualified to lead Cover Oregon. He said the governor is “devastated” about what's happened.

Courtney is also introducing a bill next month during the state's month-long session to help some of the people who are currently uninsured. That would allow state money to be used to extend coverage for approximately 4,500 people in the state's high-risk insurance pool until they’re able to get covered.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, released her own plan Friday to help Oregonians sign up for health insurance. Similar to Courtney's, it calls for extending the state's high-risk insurance pool to make sure those people are covered. 

Additionally, Kotek's plan would also seek a waiver from the federal government to extend enrollment deadlines, secure tax credits for small businesses, make sure Oregonians who bought a qualified health insurance plan can get federal insurance subsidies, extend whistleblower protections to employees of Cover Oregon and other proposed actions.

"When all is said and done, more Oregonians are going to be able to get help when they're sick, and Oregonians are going to save money on their health insurance," said Kotek in a news release. "Right now we must make Cover Oregon worthy of the public's confidence. We will ensure that Oregonians get the health care they need, we will hold people accountable, and we will make sure these mistakes are not repeated."


Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: