When the Cover Oregon state health care exchange site collapsed last year, few people were all that surprised. It wasn’t as if other efforts (including the national healthcare.gov site) weren’t running into massive problems themselves. Oregon’s effort was most notable for the fact that it had gobbled up $305M in federal funds, and shutting it down then cost the state’s taxpayers more than another $40M to turn around and join the federal exchange. But since Governor Kitzhaber resigned amidst a cloud of scandals involving his First Lady, people have been digging through the wreckage and finding all sorts of interesting details. The one that may come as a real shock to readers is that the disastrously over budget Cover Oregon project might have actually have survived and become viable were it given a chance. But even after being told that, the governor allegedly shut it down anyway in an effort to shift the blame to Oracle and salvage his election chances. (From the Washington Times)
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was told in early 2014 that the Obamacare state health care exchange his administration spent $305 million building could be made operational. But his administration chose instead to scrap the project and seek a scapegoat to keep the fiasco from harming his re-election, according to evidence turned over to congressional investigators.
The materials, reviewed by The Washington Times, include emails and memos between state officials and campaign aides as well as a transcript of a conversation from a state official turned whistleblower that suggests federal tax dollars were sacrificed for political convenience…
Mr. Kitzhaber resigned this year amid an ethics scandal that remains under federal criminal investigation. He raised suspicion in April 2014, during his re-election campaign, when he shut down the oft-delayed Cover Oregon health care exchange just weeks before its scheduled launch.
From the emails and other records recovered so far, this looks like a complete inside job. The pressure was coming from the governor’s aides with an eye toward preserving everyone’s job, and it was the tech guys in charge of getting the web site off the ground who were tossed under the bus.
Evidence from official documents gathered by congressional investigators or obtained under open records laws suggests Mr. Kitzhaber’s aides applied pressure to kill the project even though the governor had been told the exchange could be fixed and made operational.
Emails recovered from computer servers show Mr. Kitzhaber was directly told in February 2014 by Cover Oregon’s director that the state exchange’s problems could be fixed with additional testing and training.
There’s no way of knowing how well Cover Oregon would have actually worked – assuming it ever did at all – if they had been allowed to move forward to the launch. It’s also impossible to say how much more money would have been flushed down that particular rat hole in order to get it in shape, but the political costs are fairly easy to calculate. One need only look at the massive media nightmare the Obama administration endured when healthcare.gov “launched’ with the ability to handle roughly ten people at a time. The endless hiccups and crashes were fodder for the late night comics which kept on giving for months on end. As a strictly political animal, Kitzhaber had to be able to see trouble coming from a mile away. And every time they missed another deadline or needed to infuse more cash it would have been another nail in the coffin of his next election. (And that’s completely independent of the problems his fiancee was serving up.)
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the governor would choose to roll the dice, try to blame the geek squad and walk away looking as if he was the betrayed party. It wasn’t a great play, but it may have looked like the only route left to him. Sadly, it was the sort of choice one makes when they are completely narcissistic and don’t care how many taxpayer dollars they waste in the pursuit of political ambitions.
But don’t worry, Oregon. You’ve got a brand new Governor now, even if she is another Democrat. Best of luck with that.