Cover Oregon Scandal: ‘If it’s true, someone’s going to prison’
February 4, 2014 - 1:59 pm
Cover Oregon’s Obamacare website is a mess. Months after its initial rollout, it still doesn’t work. It has more than a dozen outstanding critical errors. There is no date set for its completion.
But according to KATU-TV, it kept passing federal “gate reviews” easily during its development. How could that be?
Former state lawmaker Patrick Sheehan has been looking into the scandal. He has even spoken with the FBI about what he has found.
Pick through his and KATU’s investigation, and it looks like the Obama administration’s incentive system played a part on how Cover Oregon remains unable to cover anyone at all.
Cover Oregon won a federal “early innovator” grant to build the state’s healthcare exchange website. That number grew to $59 million over the course of development. In order to keep the federal dollars flowing in, Cover Oregon had to undergo periodic reviews with the feds.
The Obama government had an incentive not to find problems. Finding problems would have generated bad publicity on his signature issue, from a Democratic state, across President Obama’s run for re-election. The government of Oregon had incentives to cover up any problems it was having developing the site — 59 million reasons, to be exact.
Through the development process and the “gate reviews,” Cover Oregon’s then chief, Carolyn Lawson, presented something to the federal reviewers that won accolades for her and the state.
In January 2012, for instance, Lawson wrote a project update for the legislator’s Ways & Means Committee.
She wrote that staff from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had reviewed the design in its entirety on Nov. 16 and 17. She said they were “delighted” with the technical application and level of quality.
“They gave Oregon very high marks, say our design was among the best they had seen,” she wrote.
What else had the feds seen?
Despite the praise, Lawson’s team never developed a site that actually works. It still doesn’t work. During the same timeframe, a company that the state hired to review progress on the site said that it was seeing a “disaster in the making.”
Sheehan says Oregon’s apparent deception is enough to warrant criminal investigation.
“It was communicated to me that something – one of these gate reviews having to do with a benchmark for federal funding – that the State of Oregon was not being truthful,” Sheehan said.
“That was the allegation that was made and that was serious enough that I had to go to talk to the FBI.”
Sheehan said he took his concerns to the FBI in December, and that he’s talked to investigators several times since.
Throughout the process in 2012, Lawson was telling the state that her team was showing the feds a working site that allowed a live person to sign up for insurance. That’s a feat that the site still can’t accomplish consistently.
All this surely warrants a fraud investigation, but who investigates it? The FBI, which just scuttled its own investigation into the IRS abuse scandal? The government of Oregon? Who?
Cover Oregon’s scandal may well go straight up into the Department of Health and Human Services, which both bungled Healthcare.gov and had every incentive to not notice problems building up in the state exchange sites. President Obama promised in his interview with Bill O’Reilly that he would hold people accountable for Obamacare’s failures. But no one has been fired from his administration.