Oh, boy: CoverOregon's executive director taking a leave of absence

The federal ObamaCare exchange is a tough act to beat in terms of their epically botched website design, but the state of Oregon’s individually designed exchange has been presenting some stiff competition with nary an enrollee signed up through the website to date. The Obama administration is still putting on a good show of talking in circles around their self-imposed and made-up deadlines, but Oregon officials haven’t even bothered to guesstimate a date by which their still-unfurled website will be up and running. The LA Times had a pretty damning piece up over the weekend about Oregon’s tech-savvy reputation versus the reality of their own glitchy rollout:

In Oregon, a state envied for its high tech, sign-ups under the new federal healthcare law have been anything but.

About 400 newly hired workers in Salem are processing paper applications by the thousands for health insurance under President Obama‘s law. They review each 19-page application, calculate eligibility for tax subsidies, and then mail back a packet of each consumer’s options — which the customers must mail back to complete the sign-up process.

Meanwhile, at the headquarters of Cover Oregon, the agency set up by the state to run its transition under the Affordable Care Act, dozens of software engineers have fanned out at long tables on the first floor, trying to untangle the technical problems that have made Oregon the only state with a health insurance exchange that has yet to go online.

One floor up is the “Go Live Situation Room,” where the state’s tech pros strategize around a conference table. But the name hints at the irony: There is no “go live” date for Cover Oregon’s exchange.

Also like the federal exchange, however, it now appears that — for whatever reason — Oregon is looking for somebody else to come in and take charge of the virtual catastrophe.

Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King will step down for a three-month medical leave starting Dec. 3, a state spokesperson said Monday.

The Cover Oregon Board said it would begin looking for an interim executive director during King’s leave of absence. Bruce Goldberg, M.D. will serve as director until the position can be filled, the state said.

“Rocky has been dedicated to building Oregon’s health insurance exchange so that individuals and small businesses can get coverage,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber. “I know how difficult it is for him to leave during this crucial time, but he has to put his health first. I have full faith in Bruce Goldberg to continue to get people enrolled and address Cover Oregon’s IT issues.”

The governor, who was out sick with a cold Monday, declined requests for on-camera interviews.

Oregon officials also announced on Monday that the state has enrolled 3,500 residents in ObamaCare plans so far, but the LA Times reports that of the at least 40,000 paper applications they have received, many of those are likely for Medicaid signups — which, combined with the website’s ongoing problems, could be very bad news:

That is potentially a major problem for Oregon, which, like every state, is aiming for high turnout among the young and healthy to offset the inclusion of older and sicker customers. The inability to directly enroll online “will probably be the greatest deterrent to people who essentially feel they are healthy and don’t need insurance,” said Deborah Chollet, a health insurance expert at Mathematica Policy Research, based in Princeton, N.J. The 11 insurance companies offering plans on the exchange have not received any data from the state, leaving them in the dark about the mix of enrollees.

Younger people in particular are more inclined to do things electronically and more frustrated if they cannot; people who have health problems are going to be motivated to overcome that frustration,” Chollet said.

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