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Oregon exchange to spend $4 million on paper application surge

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Oregon’s nonfunctional Obamacare exchange will spend $4 million to process paper applications for coverage while the website continues to undergo repairs.

“We are fully funded with federal grants through the end of 2014,” said Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox, “and are confident we can make any adjustments necessary.”

The exchange website is still unable to determine eligibility for tax credits over a month after the original launch date. The website’s only contribution to enrolling Oregon residents in exchange insurance has been to allow potential customers to download paper applications.

The paper applications can only be submitted online using the unpopular and outdated Internet Explorer web browser, according to local Oregon Live. Some 400 temporary workers have been hired to help process them.

Cover Oregon officials first announced a delay in online enrollment in early August. Spokeswoman Lisa Morawski said the decision not to launch the site Oct. 1 would “give Cover Oregon the ability to iron out the technology, customer service and other internal processes during the first few weeks of October before consumers begin applying on their own.”

But the site has experienced several rounds of additional delays and the decision to surge the number of employees available to process paper applications is seen as a tacit admission that the site will not be funcitonal by the December 15 deadline for consumers to sign up for exchange insurance to be covered on Jan. 1.

Officials announced last week that paper applications would be processed manually and Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber pushed customers to opt for the old-fashioned process. Kitzhaber exhorted Oregonians not to wait for a functional website to apply, but to “do it now.”

Cover Oregon made an official announcement about the new jobs Friday, though spokeswoman Ariane Holm holt leaked the news at a public forum Thursday evening. Holm announced that the exchange has received 12,000 applications for insurance to cover 24,000 people, but the applications still haven’t been processed, meaning not a single person has fully enrolled in a private insurance plan on the exchange.

Oregon officials have touted high enrollment numbers despite their website glitches, but to date each one of Cover Oregon’s over 70,000 enrollments have all been for the new Medicaid program. The move to hire a load of new employees to process the applications comes soon after insurance agents reported that Cover Oregon officials believed each paper application could take 30 to 45 days to process.

Exchange officials reported the lengthy processing period in an October 31 webinar for agents working with enrollment, but Kitzhaber has promised that those who apply by December 15 will receive their coverage in time for the deadline to have coverage in place just two weeks later.

Despite its failures, Cover Oregon’s website has cost over $140 million in federal funds so far. Holm said the new jobs were taken into account in the exchange’s backup plan and fit within its budget, Oregon Live reports.

Cover Oregon’s setbacks may be especially frustrating for exchange officials in light of the millions spent on advertising for the dysfunctional website. The state spent $3.2 million of federal funding on ads featuring folk songs and rainbows that were meant to drive Oregon consumers to the Obamacare marketplace.

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