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Governor Makes Leadership Changes At Cover Oregon

OPB | Nov. 22, 2013 12:20 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 3, 2014 2:17 p.m. | Portland

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After a week of intense scrutiny, Governor John Kitzhaber changed the leadership Friday at the state’s health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon.

The work of overseeing operations, fixing the website, and streamlining the paper application process will now be split between three people.

Kitzhaber said it’s time to put all hands on deck to make sure that everyone who needs health insurance in Oregon is able to get enrolled by January 1.  That’s the earliest people can get coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In retrospect, he said he should have been more involved with the development of the website, which has yet to enroll one person.

“I didn’t realize there were problems of this magnitude until they were pretty significant. So I will certainly own that,” Kitzhaber said.

He announced two main staffing changes.

First, the former CEO of Providence Health System in Oregon, Greg Van Pelt, is being brought in to give an outsider’s view of what Cover Oregon is doing wrong.

Second, Bruce Goldberg, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, will oversee the processing  thousands of paper applications.

Cover Oregon’s head, Rocky King, will focus on trying to get the website running.

Kitzhaber was asked whether it might be time to drop the website contractor, Oracle:

“I don’t think so. I think there’s a serious question of accountability that we do have to address. But we do not want to drop the process right now when we believe we’re getting close to functionality. We do not have another contractor lined up. And we just cannot afford to create that kind of additional chaos. I just don’t think this is the time to try to find heads to lop-off. it’s a time to muster our forces, focus and make sure that we get the job done, keep our eye on the ball, which again is enrollment in health plans,” Kitzhaber replied.

But he did say there would be an in-depth postmortem once things are moving smoothly.

Kitzhaber says Oracle is now bringing in its top technology person and additional staff. That cost, he says, will be borne by the company.

Calls to Oracle were not immediately returned.

Kitzhaber’s still confident the website will eventually work. But meanwhile, people are being told to go ahead and apply using Cover Oregon’s paper application.

Up to 400 temporary workers are being hired to process that paperwork.

So far 30,000 applications have been submitted, 5,000 have been processed and sent back to customers to pick a plan.

Another 75,000 people have been added to the Oregon Health Plan via an application letter.

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