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Oregon ditching its health exchange

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Cover Oregon interim chief information officer Alex Pettit speaks during an advisory committee meeting in Portland, Ore., on Thursday. (Don Ryan/The Associated Press)

Cover Oregon interim chief information officer Alex Pettit speaks during an advisory committee meeting in Portland, Ore., on Thursday. (Don Ryan/The Associated Press)

DURHAM, Ore. – After months of trying to get its problem-plagued online health exchange to work, Oregon on Friday officially gave up on the state portal and decided to switch to the federal website – the first state in the nation to do so.

An early adapter and early enthusiast of the Affordable Care Act, Oregon was once seen as the national leader in health care reform. The progressive state’s ambitious vision for its exchange, its colossal multimillion-dollar failure, and the inability to fix the glitch-filled site illustrate the complexity of the health care law and the challenges for states that decided to build their own exchanges.

Oregon, which has so far failed to enroll a single person in coverage in one sitting through its exchange, decided to ditch the exchange because officials said fixing it would be too costly at $78 million and would take too long. Switching to the federal system will cost just $4 million to $6 million and is the least risky option.

Oregon’s exchange is seen as the worst in more than a dozen states that developed their own online health insurance marketplaces. Oregonians must use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online process to sign up for insurance. The state also had to hire more than 400 workers to aid in the manual enrollment process – that despite $134 million Oregon paid its main technology contractor Oracle Corp. to build the online exchange. Oregon received a monthlong enrollment-deadline extension because of the technology problems.

Several other states, which have experienced major problems with their exchanges, are also debating their futures – although it’s unclear how many, if any, will switch to the federal portal. Already, one other state has chosen to replace its site: Maryland recently decided to adopt the technology used on Connecticut’s successful exchange.

Of the 14 states and the District of Columbia that built their own exchanges, some portals are running smoothly, including in California, Washington state, Connecticut and Kentucky. But in a half dozen states, technical troubles have cropped up after exchanges launched last October, marring implementation of the health-care overhaul.

Glitches have led states to fire technology contractors, exchange leaders resigning, cost overruns, and officials trying to figure out how – or if – to salvage their portals.

The GOP blasted Cover Oregon after its board approved ditching the beleaguered site.

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