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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Cover Oregon Director Says Online Exchange Won't Be Ready By Deadline

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King testifies before a panel of Oregon lawmakers.

Oregon’s online health insurance exchange won’t be up and running in time for people to get covered by the beginning of the year.

That was the prediction offered to a pair of legislative panels Wednesday by Cover Oregon’s director. Lawmakers peppered him and other health care managers with examples of problems with the system.

Democratic Representative Brian Clem's mother-in-law has Lou Gehrig's disease. She was kicked off her former health insurance plan. So Clem and his wife looked forward to the opening of Oregon's online insurance marketplace.

"We were excited about Cover Oregon, because the system before that really sucked," he said.

But Clem's optimism quickly turned to frustration when not only were they unable to enroll her online. They also had trouble submitting the paper application.

"In between feeding tubes and my daughter and this job and my wife's job, we're trying to get her covered," said Clem. "The fax machine, five times we tried yesterday. Busy every time."

Forget the Internet -- Clem couldn’t even reach Cover Oregon by fax machine.

Lawmaker after lawmaker tossed pointed questions at the insurance exchange's director, Rocky King.

"Rocky, with all due respect, my first concern goes to credibility," said Democratic representative John Lively. He asked King how Oregonians should be expected to believe any promise of future website functionality when delays have been piling up.

King responded with the same phrase uttered by President Barack Obama in response to the troubled health insurance rollout on the federal level: "That's on me."

King says Cover Oregon should have been more upfront about the problems leading up to the planned October 1 launch.

"We did the best that we could to get the information out, but there was a lot of uncertainty about what we could do and couldn't do. And very frankly I wasn't sure what to say."

King says based on conversations with Cover Oregon's tech contractor, Oracle, the new goal for a fully functioning website is mid-December. That would come too late for people to meet the deadline to be covered by January 1.

And King himself says the next target date isn't set in stone.

"I no longer hope," he says. "I've taken that word out of my language. When I see it, I'll believe it. And until that time, I'll bring on whatever resources are necessary and do whatever I can to make sure than Oregonians can get coverage."

For now, that means hundreds of workers pouring over paper applications. Applications that primarily arrived by mail -- not the fax machine.