The PJ Tatler

Oregon Governor Walks Out of Interview When Asked About Obamacare Exchange

Oregon’s Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber is on the hot seat due to the total failure of CoverOregon — the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange. To date, the site has not signed up a single enrollee due to massive technical problems, and there is little hope that it will be working anytime soon.

If that weren’t bad enough, now there are questions about the project’s chief information officer and her ties to the contractor who developed the non-working site. Carolyn Lawson may have given fraudulent testimony during a legislative hearing in addition to the possible conflict of interest.

Apparently, this is a sore subject for Kitzhaber. When asked about it during a TV interview, he walked out.

KATU has reported that an email sent in December 2012 from state Rep. Patrick Sheehan (R) to the governor’s legislative director, warned of problems with Lawson. Sheehan, a member of the legislative oversight committee for Cover Oregon, accused Lawson in the email of presenting fraudulent testimony in a legislative hearing and speculated about her ties to the company building the website. Kitzhaber denied having seen the email, even though his legislative director responded to it, and claimed he didn’t know of problems with Lawson until late last year.

Kitzhaber was open to discussing Cover Oregon’s new enrollment numbers, though he acknowledged that the exchange’s website is unlikely to work for the foreseeable future. It was scheduled to go live Oct. 1, but still hasn’t enrolled a single person online.

The governor claimed the exchange is actually beating expectations. “We figured that this would be a two-year process,” Kitzhaber said. “What we didn’t anticipate was actually this many [people enrolling].”

Oregon was the recipient of $1.9 billion in federal grants to improve the process it uses to provide health care to low-income individuals through the state’s Medicaid program. According to Cover Oregon, about 170,000 people signed up to begin health insurance in January through Cover Oregon or the Oregon Health Plan. But because of the website’s problems, the state had to hire hundreds of staff to process health insurance applications by paper and through call centers.

At a news conference this week in Portland, Kitzhaber said the state has hired a firm to conduct an independent review of what went wrong with the website.

That should be a very interesting review. The email sent by state Rep. Sheehan raised a lot of red flags as far back as December 2012, including the criticism that Lawson was clueless about her job.

Tech giant Oracle was the contractor in charge of building the site. Apparently, there were many in the state IT department who didn’t think Oracle was up to the job. Results would seem to bear out that criticism.

Kitzhaber claims to have never seen the email that raised critical issues about the website’s construction nearly a year before the site was supposed to go live. Immediately after being asked about that email and Lawson, a staffer interjected that the governor had to leave.

The interview was the first public statement made by the governor about the disastrous rollout of the website since November.