FBI Investigating Oregon Obamacare Exchange
1:15 PM, May 5, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Wall Street Journal reports that the feds are investigating the implementation of Cover Oregon, the state of Oregon's now-defunct health insurance exchange as provided under Obamacare. Here's an excerpt:
Read the full story here. What investigators are looking for is whether or not officials misled the state about the exchange's problems. "The key challenge facing any prosecutor is proving criminal intent," the Oregonian explains. "Did state officials paint an inaccurately rosy picture of the struggling health exchange? And if so, did they do so with intent to defraud the federal government? Or were they just unduly optimistic or out of touch with reality?"
The total cost of the exchange, over its 8-month existence, is nearly $130 million. And as the Journal notes, Cover Oregon has been a fiscal and organizational mess from the its beginning. The earliest sign was the state's multi-million-dollar ad campaign designed to promote the exchange, before it had even launched. That campaign consisted of costly music videos that seemed to have little to do with health insurance or Cover Oregon.
Then, on Day One of the Obamacare implementation, Cover Oregon was one of several state exchanges that experienced technical problems. By December, it was clear Oregon's exchange was in the worst shape, even more so than the troubled federal exchange, because it wasn't able to enroll anyone in a private health plan (though Medicaid enrollments were up). Cover Oregon began robocalling residents to inform them that if they had not received confirmation of their enrollment through the exchange, then they should probably look for coverage elsewhere.
On January 1, the director of Cover Oregon resigned after having been on "medical leave" since January. Then in March, the interim director resigned. The practice has become a regular occurence for top officials at the exchange, even as the site's initial problems subsided and federal extensions of the enrollment deadline meant Oregonians could start enrolling. Meanwhile, Oregon's Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, took to avoiding the media as local outlets pressed him on the failures of the exchange.
All this, despite (or perhaps because of) Oregon's perceived advantage on health-insurance reform. As Mark Hemingway wrote in February, Oregon has long been thought of as the progressive laboratory of democracy on health care, though the results of pre-Obamacare have been disastrous. Here's an excerpt:
The Cover Oregon disaster isn't just bringing on an FBI investigation--it may be hurting Oregon Democrats in the upcoming elections. Kitzhaber was elected to a third (non-consecutive) term in 2010, and the state's Democratic leanings mean he's unlikely to lose his bid for a fourth. But one poll last week showed Kitzhaber tied at 40 percent with a GOP challenger. The same poll found incumbent Democratic senator Jeff Merkley actually trailing Republican Monica Wehby by one point. And a plurality of 46 percent of voters said Cover Oregon and the Obamacare exchange have been failures.
Merkley, who voted for Obamacare in 2010 and promised plenty of benefits to the plan at the time, has been polling weakly for reelection all year. In response to Cover Oregon's problems, Merkley laid the blame at the feet of Oracle, the contractor who built the exchange's website.
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