Cover Oregon enrollment numbers low

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s problem-plagued health insurance exchange has enrolled about 20,000 people in private coverage, far below original projections, according to new numbers released by Cover Oregon on Tuesday.

The new numbers come the day after the state’s deadline to enroll for January coverage.

In December, the state scaled down its low level projections of 31,500 Oregonians enrolled in private health care by January 2014 to 20,700 people. Fewer people have been enrolling in other states as well.

In Oregon, the low enrollment numbers are largely due to the online enrollment system failing to go live. Technical issues with the Oracle Corp.-built exchange forced Oregonians to rely exclusively on paper applications.

Cover Oregon had to hire or reassign nearly 500 people to process applications by hand. The state continued to promise to fix the website into October and didn’t start manually determining eligibility of applicants until mid-November.

Rocky King, the exchange’s executive director, submitted his resignation last week. And Carolyn Lawson, chief information officer for the Oregon Health Authority who oversaw most of the exchange’s development, resigned in mid-December.

As of this week, a total of more than 55,000 people have enrolled through Cover Oregon. Of those, more than 35,000 Oregonians joined the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid.

Additionally, more than 114,500 people enrolled directly in the Oregon Health Plan through the Oregon Health Authority, using a streamlined process that bypasses Cover Oregon.

The exchange’s technological fiasco and a crunch of last-minute applications led to major delays in processing.

Some Oregonians who selected a plan by the Jan. 6 deadline have yet to receive confirmation of coverage or insurance cards — creating problems for patients seeking treatment covered under their new policies.

Jeremy Wilkins of Portland, Ore., enrolled by the deadline, selecting a plan through Moda Health. But as of Tuesday, the 40-year-old freelance musician and photo retoucher has still not received his insurance card.

Wilkins, whose private insurance carrier last year denied him coverage due to pre-existing conditions, said he waited to fill out the paper application until early in December, hoping the state would fix its exchange website.

Still, he’s happy to have affordable coverage: in 2000, he broke his back while sledding, racked up $90,000 in medical bills because he lacked health insurance and had to declare bankruptcy.

“Oregon’s system has been a bit slow, and that’s been disappointing, but I’m actually excited… I now don’t have to worry about losing my condo if I go sledding again,” Wilkins said.

The delays in processing are mostly because some health carriers have still not received information on all the people enrolled, Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said. That’s because, he said, data transfer from the exchange is not instantaneous and the data of people who chose plans just before the deadline would be sent over today or tomorrow.

Cover Oregon officials have said that for those who selected their plans by the Jan. 6 deadline, coverage will be retroactive to Jan. 1. Cox could not say whether carriers would reimburse people for out-of-pocket medical costs they incur while their applications are being processed.

“Cover Oregon has had a difficult start and there continue to be challenges… The high level of interest we’ve seen shows that many Oregonians need the quality, affordable health insurance we are working hard to deliver throughout the open enrollment period,” said Bruce Goldberg, acting director of Cover Oregon.

For coverage starting in January, the first payment must be received by the selected insurance company by Jan. 15.

Open enrollment continues through March for private health plans. Consumers have until March 31 to sign up in time to avoid a federal tax penalty for remaining uninsured. Qualified low-income Oregonians can apply for the Oregon Health Plan anytime during the year.

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