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Community Partners Look Forward To Cover Oregon Website Fix

Rachael McDonald

The website problems persist for the state's health insurance marketplace, Cover Oregon.  Individuals can compare insurance plans, but the site still can't determine if someone is eligible for financial help.  

This has been a source of frustration for potential customers - and for local organizations working on behalf of Cover Oregon to walk people through the process.

These community partners are counting down the days until the website is fully functional.

On a Sunny fall afternoon in late October, about 12 people gather in a meeting room at Springfield City Hall.  They’re here to learn about and sign up for health insurance through Cover Oregon.  Most are in their 50s and 60s and the general mood seems to be a mix of anxiety and confusion, with a smattering of indignation.   

Wheeler: “So we’re going to go ahead and get started.  I know you guys have a lot of questions...”

White Bird Clinic's Kate Wheeler is working through a Cover Oregon outreach grant.  She and two co-workers are holding these sessions on a nearly daily basis in Eugene and Springfield.  

Not three minutes into her presentation though, Wheeler has to make a big caveat: the online system isn’t fully functional.

Wheeler: “I don’t have a definite date for you.  I know a bunch of people are going to want to know that.  We don’t have a definite date.”

So instead, community partners like Wheeler are doing this.

Wheeler: “Okay, can you give me your legal name?

Maulding: “Sylvia.  S-Y…”

Wheeler: “S-Y-L…”

Wheeler: “V-I-A.”

A tedious paper application.

I think when it's working and the application process is a lot easier and more transparent, we can hopefully spend more time helping people apply, and less time clearing out all the different rumors and worrisome things people have heard.

Wheeler: “So every question on here I’m going to ask you even if you think it’s really silly and shouldn’t apply – like if you’re pregnant or anything like that.  We’re going to go through all of them, because that’s how the application works.”

Maulding: “That would be a real act of God.”

Sixty-three year Springfield resident Sylvia Maulding is here because she received a letter in the mail from her current insurer.  It said her premiums would more than double at the beginning of the year.

Maulding “I was just planning to stay with them for the year.  But when they raised my policy $340 a month… I can’t do that.”

Wheeler: “You can do better than that if you go through Cover Oregon.”

The state health insurance exchange is counting on this promise of better rates and coverage to convince people of all ages and financial situations to sign up.  A fully functional website should lubricate the whole process, according to Wheeler.

Wheeler: "There's definitely people that we've talked to that want to apply, but want to do it on their own because they don’t' want to share that information with another person.  But they don’t' feel they can apply yet.  So I definitely know there are some people are waiting until it's easy for them to do on their own."

It will also mean a shift in the work of community partners.    

Wheeler: “I think when it’s working and the application process is a lot easier and more transparent, we can hopefully spend more time helping people apply, and less time clearing out all the different rumors and worrisome things people have heard.”

A functioning website should also go a long way to attracting the all-important younger demographic.  Jesse Ellis O’Brien is a Health Care Advocate with OSPIRG, an Oregon consumer advocacy group that does a lot of work on college campuses.

Credit Cover Oregon

O'Brien: “Students are used to shopping and doing a whole lot of day-to-day activities online, which older folks are not necessarily.  And I think students are less likely to sign up using the paper applications, which is what folks are doing now.”

Back at the information session in Springfield, the only young person in the room, 18-year-old Kendra Smith, gets up and walks out before the session even starts.  

Smith: “I was going to try to sign up for medical insurance, see if they could help me.  But that didn’t quite happen.  The lady couldn’t answer a simple question I had.”

Smith is currently uninsured, and says she’ll try to look for help elsewhere.  But when asked if she knows where…

Smith: “I don’t.  Look online but that’s about it.”

Exactly When the Cover Oregon website will be fully functional is still unknown.  Last Friday, the governor said it may not be fixed before the New Year.  After missing their first two deadlines, officials are hesitant to publicize another.   

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