Oregon gives insurance applicants more time

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon health officials announced a series of changes late Friday in hopes of giving some people more time to sign up for insurance through the state’s health insurance exchange.

With its online enrollment system not fully working, Cover Oregon announced that insurance companies have agreed to delay the deadline for people to select their plan, a final piece of the multi-step enrollment process.

Plan selections must now be made by 5 p.m. on Dec. 27. The previous deadline was Sunday.

“This new timeline allows this first wave of applicants to carefully consider the plan choices, pick a plan and get enrolled,” said Bruce Goldberg, acting head of Cover Oregon.

Cover Oregon’s online enrollment system still doesn’t work, and the state has hundreds of workers processing applications manually.

Gov. John Kitzhaber had pledged that anyone who postmarked their application by Dec. 4 would be able to get insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1. But processing applications is taking far longer than expected, and thousands have not yet been reviewed to determine which health coverage options they qualify for.

The deadline extension will give people who have already gone through the eligibility review more time to select their plan. It also will allow the state to perform that review on more applications.

Cover Oregon is encouraging people who have been notified that they’re eligible for coverage to select their plan online or to work with an insurance agent. Those options allow the state to save time on processing.

Meanwhile, under pressure from legislative leaders, the Oregon Health Authority also announced late Friday that it will create a temporary insurance plan to ensure that people in a high-risk insurance pool won’t have a lapse in coverage.

People in the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, which insures people who were denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as cancer, will be automatically enrolled in the new plan if they have not signed up for private insurance. The pool that serves about 11,000 people will dissolve at the end of the year because denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions will no longer be allowed under the new federal health care law.

Cover Oregon’s technological challenges and application backlog may have prevented some of those covered by the pool from signing up in time to be covered starting Jan. 1.

Earlier this week, technology problems with the national health care website forced the Obama administration to extend a similar federal program, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, by a month. The move does not help those enrolled in Oregon’s high risk pool.

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