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Editorial: The right call on health care mess

Klamath Falls Herald and News, April 29:

It’s time to move on for Oregon’s abortive attempt to organize its own exchange for health insurance, but it’s a long way from time to close the books.

The bills will keep rolling in and so will the criticism. Gov. John Kitzhaber is running for re-election, and the issue will be a major item. And should be.

His opponent is likely to be State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, an early and vocal critic of Cover Oregon’s failure to fully enroll anyone through its website.

Oregon officially gave up that effort Friday. State officials said Oregon, instead, will use the federal website to enroll Oregonians in need of health care and give up on the $137 million already spent on the project. That figure includes $3 million spent promoting it.

Rather than spend the $78 million it would take to “fix” the state exchange, Oregon will spend “only” $4 million to $6 million to join the federal exchange. Not much choice there.

It’s important to know, too, how so many costly bad decisions were made.

Even though the buck stops in the governor’s office, it appeared at times Kitzhaber didn’t know how badly things were going, even when others inside and outside his administration did know.

Four people connected with the expensive fiasco have resigned or been fired, and two federal investigations are underway. A state review faulted state officials for disregarding warnings about the problems, and the contractor, Oracle, for the problems themselves.

Cover Oregon not the only cyber failure

The Oregonian, April 29:

It took six months for the state to fully name the failure that is Cover Oregon by deciding to throw it away. It’s been only days, however, since the revelation that another IT cyclops — a Department of Human Services online service called Oregon Benefits Online, to help folks sign up for food stamps — teeters towards the same fate.

Can Oregon dig a bigger hole in the ground? Or light a money bonfire?

OBO has eaten up $71 million of an authorized tab of $142 million, but has been found to be only 11 percent complete and otherwise failing to perform. OBO was to have been fully functional back in the fall. But nobody noticed that it failed to be, because Cover Oregon had bellyflopped spectacularly and snagged all the negative attention. ...

The common thread in the failures is Oracle, the California firm hired to create both IT behemoths and paid $48 million so far for OBO and more than $130 million for Cover Oregon. But bureaucrats and specialists within Oregon government did the conceiving, the hiring, the overseeing, the squabbling over authority — and, finally, the embarrassing backpedaling when their denial was pried open by reality.

It’s galling to consider the scale of the waste. But the larger and immediate problem lies in Oregon government’s capacity to manage complexity. Apparently, it cannot. ...

Few things are as gnarly as let-the-computer-do-the-job projects that braid changing variables in real time from many thousands of users. The systems are at once powerful and problematic, requiring extensive testing during development to keep bugs at bay. Project management is everything — and in Oregon’s case it was torn among Cover Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority and Oracle. An independent report about Cover Oregon showed a deep disconnect between Oracle and Oregon managers on the subject of system progress and readiness. ...

Oracle has taken the litigation-ready stance of saying Oregon managers weren’t up to the task of managing something so ornate as Cover Oregon — this while Oregon officials reserve the right to sue to get some or all of the money back. Meanwhile, Oracle remains steadfast when it comes to OBO, still in play, by telling The Oregonian’s Nick Budnick and Jeff Manning the firm “will continue to support the state in providing long-term solutions for Oregonians and to assist with its ongoing health care modernization efforts.”

Oregon faces three immediate challenges. First, it must fix or dump OBO with a full accounting as it separately migrates from Cover Oregon to the federal health exchange. Second, it must assess and name its capacity for undertaking never-before projects of complexity and risk. And third, it must devise and announce new, publicly accessible management oversight requirements to safeguard the public’s interest on any project of large scale. ...

The best Kitzhaber can do for Oregonians now is to make known how the state will proceed on its health exchange and OBO — and enumerate how, through new management reporting requirements, Oregon government will forever be inoculated against such debacles.

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