Chaffetz to Oregon: say... you used a lot of fed tax money on that Obamacare site, didn't you?

Back in May, the Washington Times reported that Cover Oregon (the Oregon Obamacare exchange) had flushed more than $300M in federal funding into their problematic system before then Governor John Kitzhaber scrapped the program, likely to avoid even more questions about his administration’s financial activities. Since we’ve heard no more about it in the intervening time I’d assumed that this was just more taxpayer money down yet another rathole. (Hardly newsworthy anymore, sadly.) But this week the Times is back with an update and somebody in Congress apparently noticed the Oregon money pit and would like a word with a few folks in in the Pacific Northwest.

A key House oversight panel is demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services turn over all documents related to the failed Cover Oregon health care information exchange, which was abandoned last year after the state spent an estimated $300 million of federal grant money to build it.

The June 15 letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform seeks all communication between employees for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) about the Oregon site, all documents related to the site’s functioning, and a description of changes CMS made to its processes on grants and information technology related to federal and state Obamacare websites.

The letter signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and the panel chairman, notes that despite Cover Oregon having cost hundreds of millions only to be scrapped and have the state’s Obamacare customers turned over to the federal site, CMS in February 2011 “identified Oregon as an ‘early innovator,’ one of only seven states granted large sums of federal dollars to design reusable IT systems in hopes of providing a state-based exchange model for other states to follow.”

EDIT: Paragraph struck

The question is whether or not we get our money back if it was knowingly dumped to no purpose or to something corrupt. While it’s not all that common, there is precedent aplenty for states being forced to pay back inappropriately allocated funds. Fairly recently Wisconsin was facing paying back federal grant money for for an economic development scheme which was supposed to lure a new employer to the state. The deal never went through and Wisconsin was on the hook for it. There are other examples, including many in New York for similarly failed programs.

If it can happen on a smaller scale such as those there seems no reason that Oversight shouldn’t be able to send a bill to Oregon for at least part of the funds. The major problem there is that Oregon has no doubt already spent the money. (They’re also in the process of being sued by a major software developer over the same deal.) So it looks like Kitzhaber may be gone, but the damage that he and his fiancee rang up isn’t done being tallied yet.

EDIT: (Jazz) The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Congressman Chaffetz was no longer in oversight. He actually had removed Mark Meadows from a subcommittee. Apologies for the error.

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Jazz Shaw 10:01 AM on June 04, 2023