State government’s recent action to dissolve Cover Oregon highlights yet again how woefully inept Oregon was at setting up its medical insurance exchange — incompetence of historic proportions.
It will go down as Oregon’s biggest tech debacle ever, and you could exclude the word “tech” and still make a credible case. The biggest debacle in Oregon government history? It is, as people like to say, in the conversation.
Cover Oregon has now cost $300 million and did not benefit anyone. It signed not a soul up for health insurance. Heck, it didn’t pave a road or build a bridge. We didn’t even get to buy a Hawaiian island (like the one Oracle founder Larry Eillison purchased for $300 million in 2012) or throw an epic statewide parade. That makes the failed exchange a terrible disappointment and a waste of money, without even mounds of ticker tape to show for it.
But while the Cover Oregon failure may be the bright, sticky icing on the cake, there is mounting evidence that the cake itself had plenty of its own problems.
Our state government failed us from the beginning. Now-disgraced governor John Kitzhaber was a strong proponent of President Obama’s nationwide health care reform, and he advocated for Cover Oregon. Kitzhaber was always prone to big ideas, yet sported blinders on the details. Without a program manager, the buildout and preparation was poor.
It also came at a time when investigative reporting on the state capital was at an all-time low. There were few nagging journalists peppering Kitzhaber and the Cover Oregon crew with persistent questions.
Then came D-Day. The Cover Oregon rollout was a disaster, and it didn’t take long before everyone was running for political cover. The hunky-dory ad campaign added insult to injury, almost advertising a blithe ignorance of the systemic flaws in the program.
Kitzhaber, preparing for his own re-election, was one of the first to duck and run. If you can remember (this was many scandals ago) he asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to sue Oracle, the firm that was under a government contract to build the online exchange. And he campaigned to scrap the system that just months before he was promoting as proof of Oregon’s genius.
Eventually, he won that argument. Cover Oregon was sent underground while the federal portal went into use.
Yet the indignities to the state continue. Oracle counter-sued the state and two weeks ago sued Kitzhaber staffers, saying they advised the governor to trash the exchange not because it was systemically broken, but because that would be his best political move. The company is pretty much saying that Kitzhaber’s staff acted against the state’s best interest in order to get him re-elected.
Emails leaked to The Willamette Week show Kitzhaber was well aware of what a political anchor around his neck the failed exchange was, and he wanted it off the front pages of newspapers across the state. What he and his political operatives did to make that a reality will be hotly contested going forward.
It’s layer upon layer of questionable decisions. A total mess, followed up by a klutzy attempt at recovery.
We can only say, using the online lingo of the day: epic fail.