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Oregon's insurance marketplace opens with glitches
PORTLAND — Oregon officials and insurance companies have been pushing hard to drum up interest in the health insurance exchange that launched Tuesday, using everything from folk singers to an upcoming party in Portland's town square to tout the benefits of President Obama's health care overhaul.
Day one, however, arrived with a hitch. The insurance marketplace called Cover Oregon was up and running, but technical problems prevented people from enrolling in coverage through the website until later this month.
More than 75,000 unique visitors went to coveroregon.com as of 4 p.m. They were able to scroll through insurance plans and prices, and find certified insurance agents and community organizations to help them start the process of buying coverage as mandated by the federal government.
They couldn't enroll, however, because the online system is not correctly determining eligibility for Medicaid, Healthy Kids and tax credits. More than 2,500 people called the Cover Oregon hotline Tuesday.
Cover Oregon executive director Rocky King described the issue as a "state technology challenge" that has nothing to do with federal government or its shutdown. He decided the error rate was simply too high during a trial run Saturday, and accuracy is more important than having the online exchange fully operational on opening day.
King said he does not want the state to tell someone they're eligible for Medicaid and then go back on its word.
"Other states have chosen to go forward, I chose to hold up the hands and say let's make sure we get it right," King said.
King and others at Cover Oregon headquarters Tuesday repeatedly emphasized that Jan. 1 is the key date. That's when coverage begins, and individuals have until Dec. 15 to enroll.
"This is day one," said Liz Baxter, chairwoman of the Cover Oregon board of directors. "It is the beginning of a new venture. It is not the end point."
Oregon has nearly 4 million people, and 560,000 of them lack health insurance. Starting Jan. 1, people making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $23,550 a year for a family of four — will be eligible for the state's Medicaid program. Anyone else who doesn't get insurance from an employer or Medicare will be able to purchase it through Cover Oregon, and people with low and moderate incomes will qualify for federal subsidies.
The Cover Oregon website, when totally up to speed, will be a one-stop shopping place that allows people to compare the benefits and prices offered by scores of individual and small-group plans. For now, they can browse but not buy.
"I'm excited to now be able to explore the different options available to fit my needs and my budget," said Matthew Collier, 30, who runs a Portland consulting firm and was invited to speak by Cover Oregon officials. "For me, it's always been a challenge to compare the different plans that were available and to see how those different plans operated."