Conger Gets Two Amendments Approved Casting Daylight on Cover Oregon

Rep. Mitch Greenlick agrees to adopt two amendments from Rep. Jason Conger that will make clear that the public can get copies of the First Data audit and will require the Cover Oregon director to provide demographic data to the Legislature. The amendments have been attached to a bill from Regence BlueCross BlueShield that will help the insurer save costs on supplies to diabetic women.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, agreed with two amendments from Republican Rep. Jason Conger of Bend on Monday that aim to provide the public with more daylight into the operations of Cover Oregon.

The first amendment will require the director of Cover Oregon to report demographic data to the Legislature by the end of May, including the number of young adults who have received coverage.

The second amendment requires Cover Oregon to make the independent audit of its botched rollout available to the public on demand. The report from First Data should be available in a few weeks.

“My intent in bring this forward is to specify the information I’d want to receive,” Conger told his colleagues. He is a Republican candidate for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. “We’re frustrated we can’t get the information we’ve been requesting.”=

The amendments required the support of Greenlick, the chairman of the House Health Committee, and they were attached to Senate Bill 1562, an unrelated bill, by a unanimous vote. The underlying bill clarifies that health insurance companies can designate specific brands of medications and supplies for pregnant women with diabetes.

SB 1562, sponsored by Regence BlueCross BlueShield, was in response to House Bill 2432 which passed last session and prohibited insurers from charging extra fees during pregnancy for the additional health supplies and visits needed by diabetic women.

Regence fought that bill, but now lobbyist John A. Powell argued the insurer needed help carrying out the law in the most cost-effective manner, such as requiring women to select brands where it has negotiated a price with the manufacturer. The Regence bill has no opposition and passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month.

Conger Convinced Greenlick

Conger told The Lund Report that Greenlick had at first resisted his amendments because he thought they were purely political, but later agreed there were common-sense safeguards the Legislature could add to oversee Cover Oregon before lawmakers adjourn next week.

“You’re messing up your image as an unreasonable person,” Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, joked to Greenlick.

Earlier amendments from Conger were much more controversial, including one to shut down the insurance exchange.

Oregon is the only state in the nation that has not yet reported age-based demographic data, despite widespread technological troubles with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act throughout the country.

Nationally, one-quarter of the policies sold on health insurance exchanges have been purchased by adults under 35. For the healthcare law to work, younger, healthier adults are needed to offset the cost of insuring older adults, who tend to need more medical care and are more expensive to insure.

Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said the health insurance exchange has continued to delay the back-end data-gathering as it works on getting the site working online from start to finish. Chief Information Officer Aaron Karjala announced last week that 700 people had signed up completely online through insurance agents or community partners.

Otherwise, applicants can submit a PDF online on the Cover Oregon website, then wait to receive a packet detailing their eligibility in the U.S. mail. Consumers can then sign up for a private insurance plan online.

The First Data report that’s been ordered to shine light on the Cover Oregon mistakes would have been public information regardless, but the Conger amendment makes its availability to the public clearer. Parts of the report can be redacted, but Department of Administrative Services spokesman Matt Shelby said any redacted portion would need to cite an existing exemption under the public records law.

“We can start restoring the faith in Cover Oregon and the state government,” Conger added. “We need to have transparency, and we need to have full disclosure.”

SB 1562 will now head to the House floor for a vote later this week. The amended version will then need to be repassed by the Senate.

Gov. John Kitzhaber was returning from the national governors’ conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday and could not make an immediate response to the new Cover Oregon amendments, said his spokeswoman, Rachel Wray.

But last week, he praised other legislation to improve oversight of Cover Oregon, which was put forward by his fellow Democrats:

“We are demonstrating that it is possible to have a healthy, vigorous debate and still come together in a bipartisan manner," Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement.

Chris can be reached at [email protected].

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