PENDLETON – Cover Oregon representatives were thrilled to see a filled room with about 60 people at St. Anthony Hospital Wednesday evening. The new state health insurance marketplace has the gargantuan task of getting its name out to every corner of the state in the coming months, so it wants all the publicity it can get.

“We’re really here to make things more accessible and easier to understand,” Cover Oregon business development manager Georgann Helmuth said.

For Portlanders, this is easy enough with several catchy commercials featuring Oregon musicians, billboards and media coverage. For rural Eastern Oregon, it gets more complicated.

Community partners such as health clinics and health insurance agents are helping to get the information out, but audience members at the Pendleton meeting worried it wasn’t enough.

“The only way you’re going to find out anything in our town is by posting a notice on the post office door,” one Wallowa County resident remarked. “I wonder how the outreach is going to occur for folks who are really out there.”

Others said they didn’t have the internet, or that their televisions only picked up Washington stations. Cover Oregon representatives took notes.

The health insurance exchange officially opens for enrollment on Oct. 1 for individuals and small businesses under 50 employees. On Jan. 1, those plans will go into effect. There’s a lot of changes to communicate and rumors to squash beforehand.

Helmuth starts the meeting with the burning questions. Can both uninsured and insured residents buy insurance through Cover Oregon? Yes. Can you be turned down for a pre-existing condition? No.

There are five different levels of insurance available, Helmuth explains: platinum, gold, silver, bronze and, “for our young invincibles,” catastrophic.

She goes over the four different health insurance companies signed up for 29 individual plans with Cover Oregon in Umatilla County, five companies in Morrow County. She goes over the Oregon Medicaid expansion, the tax credits available, the tribal program, the insurance requirements for mental health and more. The group splits in two for more details, small business plans and individual plans.

Most are excited. A diabetic man who can’t get insurance said he has the chance to semi-retire now.

The audience ate up the information, and seemed hungry for more.

“What can we do? How can we make sure we know what’s going on?” a woman asked.

Head to www.coveroregon.com, sign up online for email updates, call 1-855-COVER-OR and visit with local Cover Oregon insurance agents and community partners.

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