| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 9 The online insurance exchange
that Oregon established under President Barack Obama's
healthcare law will not allow residents to sign up for coverage
on their own when enrollment begins nationwide on Oct. 1, state
The state is the first to say it won't be open for all
comers by that date, raising concerns that other states running
their own "Obamacare" exchanges might also be struggling.
The decision by Oregon, an enthusiastic supporter of the
Affordable Care Act, gives ammunition to opponents who have
warned of an Obamacare "train wreck."
Instead of enrolling in health insurance online themselves,
at least through mid-October Oregonians will need the help of an
insurance broker or an aide trained by the state to log on,
Cover Oregon spokeswoman Lisa Morawski said on Friday.
They also will need assistance to see what policies are
available, and to determine which federal subsidies they might
be eligible for.
"This approach will give Cover Oregon the ability to iron
out the technology, customer service and other internal
processes during the first few weeks of October before consumers
begin applying on their own," Morawski said. "It also will
prevent the system from being overloaded in its first weeks."
Experts working with the state exchanges, as well as the
Government Accountability Office and the inspector general of
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have
warned that the massive effort to build new online insurance
marketplaces in all 50 states may not be ready by Oct. 1.
Efforts to get people without health insurance to buy a
policy through their state exchange, as required under the
Affordable Care Act, have emphasized that the process would be
fast and easy: log on, enter personal information such as
address and income, and in real time the system would show you a
list of available policies and tell you what they would cost
after federal subsidies.
HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said, "There will be a
marketplace open in every state on October 1, where families can
comparison shop for quality, affordable health coverage."
The delay, Cover Oregon chief information officer Aaron
Karjala told Reuters, reflects "concerns about the capacity of
the exchange as a whole, not just the technology but also the
"We're not worried about IT capacity," he said. "We have
enough to run the stock exchange."
Instead, officials worry that too many people trying to
enroll in coverage will phone the state's Obamacare call center,
which has about 50 full-time employees and plans for up to 100
About 550,000 state residents are uninsured.
"The largest choke point and the biggest constraint is the
limited number of people in the call center," Karjala said.
"People might need a lot of help" when they try to enroll,
"which could mean fairly long calls."
Oregon has trained about 1,000 agents and about 800
community partners, Morawski said. Each will be given a secured
account allowing them to log on to Cover Oregon and help someone
"This strikes me as something that most states probably
would want to do, because they don't want bad stories in the
press about how the exchange didn't work and people were
disappointed - which is virtually inevitable in the early
weeks," said Joe Antos of the conservative American Enterprise
"So this seems to be a pretty prudent move on Oregon's part.
They can say they did everything in their power to avoid leaving
Joe Public baffled by an admittedly complicated system."