Cover Oregon and the current Oregon Healthcare Exchange under the Affordable Care Act
by CAC member Roberta Hall
On Friday, Feb. 27, Cover Oregon’s Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) met for the last time. The place was the Durham headquarters of Cover Oregon, soon to be dissolved, though the space will be used for several more months. The exchange is not by any means abolished, however, as its activities will continue under the Department of Consumer and Business Services, the state’s largest regulatory agency. (This transfer occurred about a week later.) The important points that the public should know appear to be these:
1. Cover Oregon costs have been reduced significantly. In 2014 the budget was 90 million dollars, of which 80 million were spent, whereas this year the budget is 15 million. Last year, the average cost per enrollee was $48, and this year it is $10. Last year, enrollment was done with both paper and online techniques developed under contract to the state of Oregon, whereas 2015 enrollees used technology developed by the federal government (HealthCare.gov).
2. The King v. Burwell case, heard in the Supreme Court on Wed., March 4, is a legal challenge to federal tax credits offered in the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). It applies to states that did not set up their own exchange; however, Oregon is one of 16 that did. Oregon continues to run its own exchange, albeit using technology developed by the federal government. Still, if the plaintiffs win, and tax credits are not provided in the other states, it would change the ACA’s impacts dramatically. Regardless of the outcome (expected in June of this year), the extension of Medicaid to persons with incomes less than 138% of the federal poverty level is not affected by the suit. Oregon’s Medicaid system, OHP, is now administered by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
3. Once again, at the 11th hour, the OHA extended the deadline for OHP fast-track enrollees to renew their coverage; “fast-track” refers to automatic enrollment because of prior income-certification through the food-stamp program. The previous deadline was 2/28, but that has been extended to March 31. It was estimated that the remaining fast-track population who need to act before the 3/31 deadline is about 32,000. There has been a backlog, but the OHA has announced that it is hiring more call center staff to address that serious problem.
4. One of the obligations Cover Oregon staff are working on, in addition to clearing up problems that the technology collapse caused earlier, is getting the small business healthcare insurance program (SHOP) online. Right now, there is a manual process in place until a permanent solution is found. You can find out more here. Employers with 1-50 employees face no penalty for not providing insurance, but it is my understanding that they can use the program if they wish, and some have been using it. Starting in 2016, employers with 51-99 employees will be required to provide insurance. Employers with 100+ employees are supposed to offer coverage to 70% of their employees this year, 2015.
Ten members of Cover Oregon’s CAC attended the Feb. 27 meeting, seven in person, and three online. Much of the meeting was given to a report and Q and A with Director Aaron Patnode. Alicia Blevins discussed income tax forms pertaining to the individual insurance obligation and Qualified Health Plans (1095-A); next year a tax form (1095-B) will also be sent to people enrolled in a government-sponsored plan like OHP. Joel Melton and D’Anne Gilmore from the Department of Consumer and Business Services, together with Director Patnode gave an update on the apparently amicable transition process. Cover Oregon staff members Rachael Oh, Kelly Harms, and Cherie Miller ran the meeting and performed recording and online activities. CAC members thanked them and Director Patnode for their work, and expressed regret that these employees had in effect been held accountable for problems that they had no control over.
Please note that Cover Oregon employees are not state employees, so they will not be transferred to other state jobs, nor do they have PERS. The director of the agency where the exchange is now housed did not keep director Patnode on staff after the take-over, and the agency is laying off about 50 more in March; several current Cover Oregon staff will continue, perhaps through June. I, for one, appreciate their service and believe that the successes the exchange has had in extending healthcare coverage to many more Oregonians – perhaps approaching half a million – are due to their efforts and dedication.
Advocacy groups such as Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates need to follow these changes as they unfold in order to advise people correctly as well as to learn more about the complexities of making changes in the structure of the state’s healthcare-related programs.
Roberta Hall, member, Cover Oregon CAC, March, 2015