Cover Oregon Halts Advertising Campaign

The television, radio and newspaper ads are being pulled as Cover Oregon continues to face challenges

With all the upheaval created by the web site disaster, Cover Oregon is backing away from its advertising campaign after spending $8.3 million during 2013 to encourage Oregonians to “lead longer lives” by signing up for a health plan.


Television, radio and newspaper advertising are drawing to a halt, according to Michael Cox, spokesperson. But the billboards will hang around a little longer because they’ve already been paid for.


“Right now we are focused on enrolling those Oregonians who applied for coverage effective January 1,” Cox told The Lund Report. “As we move into the New Year, we will revise our ad strategy to meet our needs through the open enrollment period.”


Oregon originally projected enrolling 217,000 people in private health plans through 2014.  The revised estimate is 165,000, but that number may be wishful thinking since the website still is befuddled with problems and people can remain on their current plans through 2015, while small businesses have a year’s reprieve.


Latest figures indicate close to 30,000 people had signed up for coverage, with the majority qualifying for Medicaid, while 11,000 had enrolled in private plans.


Cox wouldn’t say but the decision to halt advertising could be related to budgetary issues.


Cover Oregon is spending more than $4 million over budget in December hiring temporary workers to plow through the paper applications, according to Bruce Goldberg, acting executive director, who spoke at a press conference last week.


During 2014, Cover Oregon will rely on federal funding for its operating expenses, including any advertising, and have $226 million at its disposal, Cox said.


However, the following year the health insurance exchange is expected to be self-sustaining, based on its monthly fees -- $9.38 paid by insurance companies for every person they enroll through Cover Oregon. In earlier projections, that figure was slated at $12.14.


Right now no one’s willing to say how Cover Oregon will come up with enough funding to keep from falling into the red ink column in 2015. But several possibilities have emerged, among them asking the February legislative session for an appropriation from the state’s general fund or seeking additional federal funds. And, Cover Oregon could attempt to get back some of the monies paid to Oracle for its failure to get the website up and running. But there’s no sure way of making that happen.


When asked about funding, Cox declined to respond, saying his office was busy with the enrollment fairs. He also wouldn’t say whether Rocky King, executive director, would return following his three-month medical leave.


Meanwhile, people who’ve been unable to sign up for a health plan using the paper applications are being told to seek coverage from private health plans, however they won’t be eligible for tax credits or subsidies.

One solace for those who renew their current insurance policies -- they won’t be charged a higher monthly premium during 2014. Oregon’s Insurance Commissioner Lauri Cali made that quite clear to insurance companies in a recent meeting, telling them she won’t approve any rate hikes in those cases.

That could have dire consequences for insurers. “Right now we’re bending over backwards to accommodate this massive failure,” an insurance executive told The Lund Report, “and we’re taking it in the shorts, losing big money on enrollment.”

Now it’s anyone’s guess what happens next with Cover Oregon – but it doesn’t look like easy sledding in the road ahead.

Diane can be reached at [email protected].


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