What didn’t he know and why didn’t he know it?

This is really getting embarrassing.

Washington State has directly enrolled 454,009 people in health insurance through its Healthplanfinder website since launch day, Oct. 1, 2013. The number of health insurance enrollments directly through Oregon’s Cover Oregon website since Oct. 1, 2013? Zero. Zilch.

The launch of Oregon’s much ballyhooed Cover Oregon website has been like a rolling catastrophe, a hot mess even more embarrassing after Oregonians were bombarded for months by a multimillion dollar campaign featuring quirky, down-home advertisements.

As the Cover Oregon debacle has plodded on, Governor John Kitzhaber has tried to shift public attention away from the hapless website, saying in Nov. 2013, “Cover Oregon works, the website doesn’t work.” That’s pretty much what President Obama said after Obamacare’s website failed spectacularly on its Oct. 1, 2013 rollout. “The Affordable Care Act is not just a website,” he said. “It’s much more.”

A former emergency room doctor with a national reputation for healthcare innovation, pulling in speaking fees for healthcare presentations around the country during his first two and current terms, and a declared candidate for an unprecedented fourth term, Kitzhaber has a lot riding on Cover Oregon.

So why did he let this fiasco happen on his watch?

For somebody touted as a skillful politician and manager, and a governor likely concerned about his legacy, his failure to keep a close watch on the Cover Oregon website from the outset is an egregious error for which there is really no excuse.

Myriad explanations have been proffered for why the website didn’t work on Oct. 1 and is still comatose, including the complexity of the project, internal feuding, bureaucratic bungling, shifting federal guidance, poor management, lack of state expertise and big mistakes by the primary software firm, Oracle Corp.

Whatever the reason, Kitzhaber should have been bird-dogging the project from day one.

And the well-compensated people working at Cover Oregon, all rewarded with six weeks of paid time off plus 11 holidays each year and 95 percent state coverage of health insurance, should have felt obligated to give Kitzhaber a heads up when things were going off the rails. Or he should have noticed.

After all, Cover Oregon’s problems as the work was underway were legion and well-documented.   failed to meet the terms of the initial federal grant for the project, which stipulated that the website was supposed to be ready to go by Feb. 15, 2013.

Then, in May an internal Cover Oregon report revealed that the exchange was infested with technical bugs.

In mid-August, another warning came when Cover Oregon said Oregonians would be able to look online for insurance plans beginning Oct. 1, but wouldn’t be able to enroll in coverage or tax credits for the first few weeks without an agent or community partner.

Moreover, Rocky King, former executive director of Cover Oregon, has said it became obvious during the summer that the website wouldn’t be fully ready by Oct. 1.

But on Dec. 14, 2013, Kitzhaber said he’d been just as unaware of Cover Oregon’s technical problems as other Oregonians and didn’t learn until Sept. 30 that the Oct. 1 website launch would be cancelled.

Kitzhaber, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader have done the expected, blaming Oracle, —, and insisting that the company make good on its commitment to producing a working website. Late last year Kitzhaber admitted at a press conference, “I think I should have been more engaged on this project,” but now he’s clamming up, refusing interview requests from The Oregonian in connection with an article on the chaos associated with the website.

Meanwhile, Cover Oregon’s website still proclaims, “We’re one of the first states to build our own health insurance marketplace. We’re setting the standard for making health coverage more accessible and easier to understand.”

Not so much.




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