Obamacare Exchanges Imploding State By State

Brian McNicoll Former communications director for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
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In the last couple of weeks, President Obama’s talking points have taken a turn for the weird. This is not normal spin. These are claims so absurd, so laughably off the mark as to leave one wondering what is going on down there.

Our coalition of 60 nations is systematically destroying ISIS, he said as ISIS continued to roll across northern Iraq virtually unopposed.

He’s the most Jewish president ever to serve, he told us, despite the fact he has brought U.S. relations with Israel to an all-time low. The Iran deal is completely transparent.

And in the last few days, he has gone off the deep end on Obamacare. It’s working even better than planned, he said. All the dire predictions made by opponents … none of them came true.

Well, there’s this impressive list of predictions that did come true. And the news this week that Hawaii will become the latest state to give up on its state exchange and turn over its Obamacare duties to healthcare.org. The state spent $130 million over two years on its exchange, and in the second year, it did not enroll a single person.

And there’s New Hampshire Gov. Peter Shumlin, a rising star in his party, who has announced he will step down at the end of his term because his support has collapsed over the problems with his rebuild of the state’s healthcare system.

And Maryland, where a Republican was elected governor in state that is 2:1 Democrat because the Democratic candidate, as lieutenant governor, so thoroughly botched his state’s exchange that it had to scrap it and buy a copy of Connecticut’s system. And there’s Nevada and New Mexico, which gave up the ghost after realizing the project just doesn’t add up.

And then there’s usually somewhat competent Oregon, whose exchange went down in a $300 million flame of taxpayer money in April without ever registering a single person for health insurance. It missed its launch date and never worked properly. Eventually, Oregonians could sign up through the system but had to use paper forms to actually apply for insurance.

“There have been numerous disasters along the way as the federal government and the states have struggled to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare),” wrote Neil McCabe in National Review Online. “But none come close to Oregon’s sorry effort for the millions of dollars lost, the raw political opportunism, and the melodramatic plot twists.”

Those plot twists start with a woman who calls herself the Princess of Darkness.

Patricia McCaig was a friend of Kitzhaber’s, a “believer,” she told him in an email uncovered by reporters using Oregon’s freedom of information law before the governor could succeed in destroying them. She is not to be confused with Cylvia Hayes, the girlfriend whose possible involvement in influence peddling forced him to resign from office on Feb. 18.

She also is not to be confused with someone who had the expertise to run Cover Oregon, the state-based exchange that went belly up earlier this year. McCaig was a campaign operative with a reputation for turning around troubled campaigns. Since she helped run Kitzhaber’s winning campaign in 2010, she has been a trusted off-the-books adviser.

Not that she hasn’t made money off the state. She collected $553,000 for consultant work on the Columbia Bridge Project, which was to have connected Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, but which was never built.

When Cover Oregon began to flounder, McCraig offered to help from behind the scenes. What she understood was not how to turn around the troubled exchange – she admitted in another email she knew so little about Cover Oregon that she couldn’t write the exchange’s goals without outside help – but that she needed to keep the growing scandal from hurting Kitzhaber’s re-election chances.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform zeroed in on that in a letter to Kitzhaber demanding documents related to his campaign’s involvement with Cover Oregon. Decisions, said the letter, “may have been based on politics, not policy, and campaign advisors working on your re-election campaign may have coordinated the state’s response to the Cover Oregon roll-out.”

McCraig’s advised Kitzhaber to cut his losses, kill the exchange and sue Oracle. He resigned Feb. 18, and the exchange closed in April. But the state did sue Oracle, even though its own lawyers said they had no case. This last ditch attempt to shift blame comes at $650 per hour to the Kitzhaber-connected Portland law firm involved.

With Kitzhaber and the exchange gone, Oracle wants to get it over with and walk away. And that’s fine.

But Congress needs to take a look at what happened here. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is looking into it, and hearings seem like a logical path as information continues to accumulate.

Critics say Chaffetz is acting at the behest of Oracle.

Even if that’s true, it doesn’t change the fact the state filed – and continues to pursue – what its own lawyers say is a frivolous suit, that a political consultant not on the state payroll somehow got control of a huge public healthcare edifice and shut it down for political reasons and that $300 million of federal taxpayer money was squandered on a system that never served a single Oregonian.

Obamacare is not doing well, the president’s fantasy world notwithstanding. It is being botched through cravenness, incompetence and ambition from coast to coast. We need to know why we got nothing for all this money. And Oregon is as good a place to start as any.