After spending $305 million and enrolling zero people in Obamacare, Oregon is giving up on its online exchange.
“I no longer use the word ‘hope’ that something is going to work,” said Rocky King, the Executive Director of Oregon’s exchange. “I am planning to do a full manual system from here through March 31.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services doled out at least $305 million in federal taxpayer funds over three years while Oregon officials ostensibly prepared the marketplace, according to Americans for Tax Reform. Taxpayers also spent millions advertising the site. (Related: Feds drop $3.2 million on Obamacare ads in Oregon featuring guitar-strumming hipsters)
But it turns out Cover Oregon, the online exchange, won’t be going live at all.
The website’s contractor, Oracle, plans to have the website operational to the full public by December 15 — the national deadline for insurance applications to have coverage by January 1 — but King isn’t optimistic.
“If the IT comes up,” King noted, “that’s icing on the cake, but I’m not depending on that.”
The website currently allows residents to compare plans, but is unable to register individuals or determine eligibility for tax credits to offset expensive premiums.
While the website woes have kept Oregon from enrolling a single person in a private insurance plan — the only remaining state with zero enrollees — the state has notably signed up over 70,000 residents in the expanded Medicaid program.
The state sent out 200,000 letters notifying Oregonians of their eligibility for the new Medicaid program and received a substantial response for the newest entitlement program.
Privately purchased insurance isn’t going nearly as well. The exchange has received 24,486 paper applications, but has only made 1,371 eligibility determinations, leaving a large backlog for the exchange to catch up on.
Cover Oregon recently revealed that the exchange would hire 400 temporary workers to process paper applications. Oregon residents will have to file their paper applications by December 4, an even earlier deadline than most exchanges, in order for them to be processed for coverage by January 1.
Exchange spokesman Michael Cox reported that the new staff would be paid out of an emergency backup budget, and wouldn’t cost taxpayers additional funding.
However, King admitted Wednesday that Cover Oregon is $1.7 million over budget. The exchange intends to withhold 5 percent of its obligated payment to Oracle, the company hired to build the Oregon website.
In any case, the website’s failure for the duration of the enrollment period of October 1, 2013 to March 31 of next year will likely leave both Oregon residents and federal taxpayers dissatisfied.
Despite the exchange’s failure to enroll any Oregonians, Cover Oregon has run an advertising campaign encouraging residents to sign up at the cost of $2.9 million — a pittance compared to the nonfunctional website.
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