PORTLAND, Ore. – Emails between Cover Oregon’s top executives and his software vendor show that the troubled state health insurance exchange knew its website had problems months before the site launched.
Back in May – five months before the scheduled launch in October – Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King sent an email to a senior vice president at Oracle, the company hired to develop the insurance exchange site.
The email lays out a list of problems King said his auditor found with the site. King also reminded the executive that “Oracle has as much to lose or gain as Cover Oregon in the implementation of our exchange.”
The emails, which were released to KATU on Tuesday after we filed a public records request, clearly show that there was concern about meeting the October 1 deadline.
“We have a great deal of issues on our project that very likely will result in not being able to go live on October 1,” King wrote on May 19.
He told Oracle he needed them to send more people to get the website on track. The Oracle VP responded that her company would review their processes and bring in more people to help on the Oregon project.
In an internal Cover Oregon email, a staffer in charge of project oversight vented that Oracle wasn’t using the basic playbook that software engineers use to manage projects.
“I cannot interpret the information as presented by Oracle and I would suggest that no one can,” he wrote.
Who's to blame?
In his first ever on-camera interview, Cover Oregon's chief information officer Aaron Karjala says the company is not playing the blame game.
"At this point we're not putting any energy into finger pointing at this point," Karjala said.
Karjala said the newly released emails about staffers' knowledge of website problems only tell part of the story.
He said the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) chose Oracle to help create the site more than two years ago after a "strict state procurement process." Oregon was an early leader in developing an exchange, securing $48 million in an "early innovator" federal grant - larger than awarded any other state - to develop the computer infrastructure to make insurance exchanges work.
Karjala said, when that grant was finalized this year, Cover Oregon assumed responsibility for the contracts.
"Cover Oregon took full responsibility for the website in May of this year and conducted an in-depth analysis of the technology, and we saw that there were some issues, which we notified Oracle about immediately," Karjala said.
While emails KATU pored over point to possible delays, Karjala says Cover Oregon and Oracle remained in constant contact to fix on-going problems. Karjala said once they were made aware of issues, they increased communication with Oracle staffers to multiple times a day "checking the status in multiple areas of the project."
"That escalated over the course of the summer ultimately resulting in getting the top members of the Oracle company to be involved in this project," Karjala said. By 'top members' he means Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.
Not only that, he said Cover Oregon had both an internal and an external review process and worked closely with state officials to ensure the website was working as planned. However, Karjala seemed unsure about where Oracle's performance issues stemmed from.
"It's really hard to tell at this point," Karjala said. "When we have the time, then we really need to take an in-depth look at what is causing it."
For now, Karjala says Cover Oregon employees are doing everything they can to properly sign up thousands of Oregonians for health care.
"We're working with Oracle to remediate any of the issues. We aren't happy with where the technology is and we're going to continue to focus on ensuring that that is put in place so we can get the most coverage for Oregon citizens."
That didn't stop Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., from slamming Cover Oregon's software team Oracle.
Last week, on national TV he said "Oracle was contracted to deliver the exchange, they promised it would be fairly delivered on time and it's in complete dysfunction."
That's even before the On Your Side Investigators obtained emails showing staffers knew of problems months before the site's launch.
The On Your Side Investigators reached out to Oracle several times. Oracle spokeswoman, Jessica Moore, said the company declined to comment.
Because the exchange website is not able to enroll people yet, Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority previously announced they were hiring more than 300 workers to help process applications so people have coverage in place by Jan. 1.
The deadline to start the Cover Oregon application process is Dec. 4 to ensure it's complete by Dec. 15 -- allowing Jan. 1 coverage. Applicants can send in a paper form or submit an electronic one that is downloadable through coveroregon.com.
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