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Editorial: Delay Cover Oregon deadline

The (Medford) Mail Tribune, March 5: Federal officials should extend March 31 deadline for health coverage:

It surely came as no surprise that Cover Oregon is unlikely to fix its troubled website in time to meet the March 31 deadline by which nearly all Americans must obtain insurance under the federal health care reform law.

It would be surprising if the federal government did not extend the deadline so that Oregon residents are not unfairly penalized for failing to meet the deadline through no fault of their own. Meanwhile, any Oregonians who don’t have insurance and have not yet filed applications on paper should do so, just in case.

Cover Oregon announced Monday it will pay technology contractor Oracle much of the money the state had been withholding in return for the company continuing to work to get the website up and running. Gov. John Kitzhaber said, however, that he is not confident the website will be fixed in time to meet the deadline.

The online component of Cover Oregon has been a colossal disappointment since it launched Oct. 1. It has never functioned properly, forcing residents to submit applications on paper forms, which greatly slowed the process.

More than 50,000 Oregonians who submitted applications by Dec. 4 were promised they would receive coverage Jan. 1, but did not. Those people were supposed to be able to apply estimated year-end tax credits to reduce their premium payments starting Jan. 1.

The federal government announced last week that people in states hampered by “technical issues” could receive those tax credits retroactively. That was good news for Oregonians, and it was only fair, considering the fault was not theirs but the state’s.

Now, to no one’s surprise, it appears the Cover Oregon system will miss the March 31 open enrollment deadline, too. Still, Cover Oregon has managed to enroll 123,000 people using the slower paper process.

Oregon is now the only state without a functioning public website to enroll residents in health coverage. Cover Oregon officials and others have suggested the federal government might extend the March 31 deadline, but no extension has been announced.

Last month, however, Massachusetts was granted a three-month extension of the deadline, until June 30, because problems with that state’s website had left it with a backlog of 50,000 unprocessed applications. ...If Massachusetts qualifies for an extension, Oregon should as well.

It may take years at this point to sort out who is to blame for the Cover Oregon mess. State officials are still withholding $25 million in payments to Oracle, and have reserved the right to sue the company later.

For now, the priority must be to enroll as many people as possible by March 31, and to protect the rest from consequences beyond their control.

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