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'Cover Oregon' Cover-Up
By Peter Roff | Contributing Editor
  Thursday June 9, 2016 - 3:59 AM
 
Everyone who's actually experienced Obamacare knows it's failing. Co-ops are closing left and right. State exchanges are shutting down. And, as those opposed to the plan warned all along, premiums are going up and up and up. It's no longer a matter of whether you can keep the insurance you had if you liked it: It's a matter of being able to have insurance at all.

This is, of course, precisely the opposite of the way the program of reform was marketed by the White House and its allies. Instead of being the silver bullet to help bend the health care cost curve downward, however, it's been a shot right through the heart of the health care system. Fixing it will take more time than it actually took to pass it, since the so-called reforms have made the real problems worse while creating a few more that weren't pre-existing.

One of the worst developments has been the failure of many of the online exchanges that were supposed to be a one-stop, one-size-fits-all marketplace where insurances policies could be purchased cheaply and easily. In a lot of places that hasn't turned out to be the case. In Massachusetts, for example, the administration of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick took a functioning website created as part of Romneycare, spent a lot of money on so-called improvements and promptly broke it.

By far the worst example is Oregon, where the website for the state exchange was declared completely dysfunctional, but only after more than $300 million – according to best estimates – was spent trying to figure out how to make it work.

The politicians back in Oregon, at least one of whom has lost his job in part over the "Cover Oregon" scandal, have tried all along to blame the companies and contractors they hired to build the website. The official term of art for that is "buck passing." The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been investigating what went wrong and, in a report just issued, has concluded – no surprise – it was the politicians playing politics who are to blame.

Here, in brief, is what the committee found:

State law clearly established Cover Oregon as an independent entity. The governor and his political advisers' involvement in Cover Oregon was inconsistent with Oregon law. Campaign funds were used to assist the governor in his official capacity while handling Cover Oregon. Cover Oregon became closely tied with all campaign activities, from polling to meetings. The governor's political operatives – none had technological experience – micromanaged many of the decisions that needed to be made regarding Cover Oregon. Junking Cover Oregon and moving to HealthCare.gov was viewed as a way to "let the steam out of so much of the attacks."

The Cover Oregon board was told the cost of moving to HealthCare.gov was $4-6 million. A slide showing moving the Medicaid system would cost $36 million was deleted. After the governor complained about the "free independent expenditure campaign" his political opponent was receiving because of Cover Oregon, his political advisers drafted letters asking the attorney general to sue. The letter was sent days later. In sum, the committee says, "Cover Oregon failed for two main reasons: The state acted as their own system integrator (like HeathCare.gov), and the state tried to revamp its entire health care system, not just build an exchange."

All in all it's a pretty damning indictment. As a result, in what may be the first allegations of criminal misconduct related to Obamacare, the committee wants United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a criminal probe and for Oregon's attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor with a mandate to uncover what happened with Cover Oregon.