By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
As Oregon’s health care exchange website continues to malfunction, the state scrambles to get people enrolled in health insurance under Obamacare.
The website for Cover Oregon still hasn’t enrolled a single person for health insurance under Obamacare.
The state is now hiring 120 new workers at a cost of $1.1 million through Dec. 15 to help process paper applications and get people enrolled by January, according to figures provided to Northwest Watchdog from the Oregon Health Authority and Cover Oregon.
As of Friday, 81 people had been hired and were expected to start processing applications.
OHA is also moving 15 people from customer service to help out. Patty Wentz, OHA communications director, said the money for hiring temporary employees is coming from existing funds that were budgeted for Affordable Care Act implementation. Most of the cost is for staffing as the state will repurpose computers and other needed equipment.
Northwest Watchdog has asked what that money was originally supposed to be used for before the website failed to work properly. We’ll update when we hear back.
Cover Oregon, additionally, is on track to hire 290 workers by December at a cost of $2.7 million.
What does it mean when Oregon, the poster child for the implementation of Obamacare, falters?
If you ask the governor, president or anyone supporting the new health care law, it’s no big deal. They are working to fix the problem and ensure those who need health insurance get it.
“As Cover Oregon works to get online enrollment up and running, we are adding new sign-up options and more resources so that Oregonians get the insurance they want and need,” Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a press release. “Together with the insurance agents and community partners who are really stepping up, we are going to do whatever it takes to get this done for Oregonians.”
But to critics who claim they saw this coming, it’s just another sign the system is flawed.
The issues plaguing Cover Oregon come despite hundreds of millions of federal dollars poured into the state, an early start toward this new health care law, a months long ad campaign and nothing but positivity from the powers that be.
“It’s just another indication that this model as a whole is a problem,” Ben Domenech, senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, told Northwest Watchdog. “No state has done more to try and be ahead of the curve on this type of approach to reworking our health care markets than Oregon. It is a reflection that this approach was always from the beginning an ill thought out and ill structured approach.”
Kitzhaber likes to point out that the state has already enrolled 70,000 through the “fast track” option via the Oregon Health Plan. That’s 10 percent of the uninsured in Oregon, but they’re signing up for Medicaid, not private health insurance.
This is a common trend in other states. Though Washington’s exchange is working, 42,605 sign-ups have been for Medicaid while 6,390 are for private insurance.
“What that makes Obamacare look like more and more is significant Medicaid expansion,” Domenech said.
OHA is now focusing on getting the 10,300 at-risk Oregonians not eligible for the state’s fast track enrollment covered, Wentz said. The agency has set up a processing center at the Cherry Avenue Training Center in Salem with about 170 workstations.
The temporary workers will be available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving and possibly Veterans Day. They’ll get paid between $14 and $17 and won’t get health benefits, according to Wentz. Cover Oregon employees will have the option of health benefits.
While Kitzhaber said Obamacre is more than a website, Domenech said that’s like saying Amazon.com is more than a website.
“If the website is down you can’t actually access any of the products,” he said. “The exchange is a website fundamentally.”
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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