As the start of the second open enrollment period for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act nears, Oregon officials say this time the state will avoid an enrollment disaster.
When Oregon launched its insurance exchange portal last October, it turned into a technology fiasco. Cover Oregon was the only exchange in the nation that never fully launched and didn't let the public enroll in coverage in one sitting.
Instead, residents had to use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online application process to get health insurance. Six top officials connected to the Cover Oregon debacle resigned.
The state abandoned its troubled exchange in April after determining it was cheaper to switch to the federal site than to fix Cover Oregon. Officials say they've taken steps to ensure a smooth new enrollment period, which starts on Nov. 15.
This summer, Oregon hired a tech firm, Deloitte Consulting, to help transition Oregon to the federal exchange and to finish building the state's Medicaid system.
And earlier this month, officials cut all remaining ties with the state's main technology contractor Oracle Corp. and decided to use another state's Medicaid enrollment system instead of salvaging some of Oracle's technology. That system won't be ready until next year, so Medicaid-eligible residents will also use HealthCare.gov during the new enrollment period.
Deloitte is the "system integrator," the general contractor that oversees the entire transition. The decision to forego a system integrator by Cover Oregon was widely blamed for contributing to the site's failure to launch.
Deloitte will also create a new website — OregonHealthCare.gov — that won't enroll people, but will redirect Oregonians to HealthCare.gov. The transition to HealthCare.gov has been glitch-free so far.
"Overall the project is on track, it's going well," said Tina Edlund, the state administrator in charge of overseeing the transition.
Oregon's 15 insurance carriers have already uploaded their plan information, cost-sharing information, and premium data to HealthCare.gov, Edlund said. The carriers are currently undergoing end-to-end testing; none have reported experiencing any problems. The federal government also has updated HealthCare.gov to include language specific to Oregon.
Residents' individual data isn't being transferred to HealthCare.gov for reasons of privacy and security, Edlund said. That's why all residents who previously enrolled in private insurance via Cover Oregon will have to reapply via HealthCare.gov.
There will be plenty of support for those applying for or changing insurance plans. Oregonians will now have access to two call centers. The federal call center will help them with enrollment issues. The state's call center will assist with general questions, shopping for plans, or access to community partners, navigators, and insurance brokers.
Agents who want to sell insurance via the federal exchange have undergone training, officials said. Oregon is also currently training community partners and navigators on how to use the federal portal. The Oregon Health Authority has issued $1 million in grants to these partner organizations to continue helping residents.
Officials said applying through HealthCare.gov will be much easier than through Cover Oregon, because people can apply online, in one sitting.
Edlund said she has not heard of any current issues with the federal portal, which experienced major technical problems when it first launched. Earlier this month, the Obama administration unveiled a revamped version of HealthCare.gov featuring a simpler application and a site optimized for mobile devices.
A total of 36 states are currently using HealthCare.gov, and Oregon and Nevada will join them shortly.
While the HealthCare.gov technology should work better, experts say the up to 7 million returning customers across the United States may face complications as they try to renew or change plans.
They will also have to file forms with their 2014 tax returns to prove they got the right subsidy amount. And those who remained uninsured will face a tax penalty unless they can secure an exemption.
Oregon officials have been reaching out to the residents to inform them about the changes and deadlines, said Cover Oregon executive director Aaron Patnode. He said the state plans to spend $1.5 million on television, radio and online advertising that will direct residents to HealthCare.gov, starting after the election.
About 416,000 residents enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon in 2014. An estimated 105,000 of those enrolled in private health plans, while 311,000 enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon's version of Medicaid.
There are no estimates as to how many Oregonians could enroll in 2015. But a study released in September showed 95 percent of the state population now has coverage and about 202,000 Oregonians remain uninsured.
In the meantime, a grand jury is investigating Cover Oregon, as is the federal Government Accountability Office and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state and Oracle Corp., the main technology contractor responsible for developing the exchange, are suing each other.
The state paid Oracle about $240 million in federal funds to develop the exchange portal and related work.