Oregon's Obamacare Exchange Tech Won't Be Ready On Time


credit: Ian Sane / Foter / CC BY

You'll probably find a lot of chatter about how calls to delay Obamacare are just nuts, or pandering to delusions of the GOP base.

But take a look at what's happening in Oregon, via The Oregonian:

Though Oregon's health insurance marketplace will launch Oct. 1 as planned, there's one hitch. People will only be able to immediately purchase health insurance on it with certified insurance agents and "community partners."

The online marketplace won't be fully accessible until mid October -- at the earliest.

So Oregon's health exchange is "launching." But it's not really launching. It might be ready a few weeks late. It might not be ready until sometime after that. ("At the earliest" means it will be ready whenever it's ready, and no one knows with any confidence when that will be.)

The biggest hangup won't surprise anyone who has been following the law's implementation: It's technical. There are also funding issues. 

On Oct. 1, Cover Oregon will list agents and community partners who can walk individuals through the complicated new sign-up, the agency announced at its board meeting Thursday.

"We want to make sure we don't overload the system and to make sure we quickly identify and resolve any bugs, but at the same time we want to open Oct. 1," said Cover Oregon spokesperson Lisa Morawski.

In addition to working out kinks, Cover Oregon is also dealing with a $16 million shortfall. The Oregon Health Authority, a sister agency, had expected to fund computer programming for Cover Oregon through June with a $59 million federal grant. But documents show the grant ran out in April, due to a "misprojection" of remaining funds.

And this is in a state that has enthusiastically embraced Obamacare from the beginning, a state which the story says "started early setting up its online insurance marketplace."

Nor is Oregon the only state where officials say they have had trouble hitting deadlines. Connecticut scaled back its exchange to a "bare-bones version of what was initially envisioned," according to July report in The Washington Post.

As a result of the rush, the report said, "the insurance marketplace [that state officials] were working on nights and weekends won't be completely ready on time." About 30 percent of the online exchange functionality had hoped to have ready in October have been delayed. "This is a two- to three-year implementation we're doing in 10 months," the exchange's top official told The Post. "I wish we had one more year."

To be clear, I'm not saying that a full-on delay is likely. It's not. But it's not nuts either. 

Cover Oregon did, of course, manage to get this terrifyingly twee Obamacare sign-up ad produced on time: