Rocky King Welcomes Expertise of Greg Van Pelt, Bruce Goldberg

The executive director of Cover Oregon says he has the complete confidence of Governor Kitzhaber in turning around the troubled health insurance exchange.
The decision by nine health insurers to let people remain on their current plans until sometime in 2014 -- even though those plans are not compliant with the Affordable Care Act -- is good for Oregonians and won’t impact the exchange, Rocky King told The Lund Report. 
 
“On the short term it definitely takes some of the pressure off and is a good option for Oregon consumers,” he said.  “I don’t know if it will have an impact in the long run.”
 
As of yesterday, Cover Oregon had received about 30,000 applications, approximately half of them for Medicaid coverage and have sent eligibility letters to 5,000 Oregonians. 
 
King, who’s faced criticism from the Cover Oregon board, along with disgruntled consumers and insurance agents stifled by the continual computer delays, says his executive director job is secure and he has the full confidence of Governor John Kitzhaber and his executive staff. 
 
Last Friday, Kitzhaber announced he was bringing in retired Providence executive Greg Van Pelt, who’s currently the president of the Oregon Health Leadership Council and Oregon Health Authority director Bruce Goldberg to get the system up and running and streamline and improve the manual application, eligibility and enrollment process. 
 
“Greg’s going to provide good insight to us and make sure, over the next 30 days, that we’re working the best we can to get this done,” King said. “The Governor asked him to come in and look at some of the processes to make sure we’re working most efficiently on the manual applications; it seemed to make a lot of sense to me.”
 
With Oracle not meeting its timelines – over and over again -- it makes sense, King said, to bring in outside expertise so applications can be processed efficiently. 
 
Nevertheless, there’s some speculation by insurance agents, among them Richard Skayhan with Leonard Adams, that Van Pelt’s been brought on as the shadow CEO of Cover Oregon in an attempt to replace King.
 
“There’s no other reason to bring Van Pelt in,” Skayhan conjectured. “What they’ve done is bring him to add credibility and get this jump started.”
 
However, Van Pelt’s tenure only goes through Jan. 1, and no decisions have been made to ease out King, according to sources inside the governor’s office. 
 
Now’s not the time to point fingers at Oracle, said King, who’s been speaking with its high level executive several times a week, while Governor Kitzhaber also has been in discussions with Oracle’s CEO.
 
Oracle has a chief architect assigned to the Cover Oregon project and is working with its resources and expertise to resolve the technology problems, King added.
 
Deadline’s Not Changing 
 
He also defended the Dec. 4 deadline for people to send in their applications for coverage beginning Jan. 1, and said that deadline has already been moved and there are no plans to make any other changes, despite criticisms from consumer advocates, among them Jesse Ellis O’Brien, healthcare advocate with OSPIRG.
 
Calling this very disappointing, O’Brien said consumers will be confused because for several months they’ve been hearing about a Dec. 15 deadline to submit their paper applications.  
 
“I’m concerned that some people will not get the message and will lose out on coverage for a month as a result,” he told The Lund Report.  "I understand that Cover Oregon does not have a lot of good options due to the technical difficulties with the website, and the paper application process is much more time-consuming. 
 
“We would also support anything else that would give people more time and more flexibility in signing up for coverage while Cover Oregon’s technical problems continue. There may be some creative solutions that have yet to be fully explored. One proposal I’ve heard that we would support would be changing the rules to enable people signing up as late as January to sign up for coverage back-dated to January 1. Back-dated coverage is not unusual in insurance and this should be possible, but it may require a rules change at the federal level.” 
 
Meanwhile, Skayhan questioned the credentials of the 400 temporary workers being hired by Cover Oregon to process paper applications and whether they had enough training to help people with federal tax subsidies.  “I’m concerned about accuracy and whether they are the most skilled people, those who worked for the Family Health Insurance Assistance Program (FHIAP).” 
 
All of the temporary workers, some of whom have worked for FHIAP, have undergone training to assist people with eligibility determination and with plan selection. “They come with a mixture of expertise and experience,” King said.
 
He also called the application fairs a “win-win for consumers” that are taking place in Portland, Medford, Eugene, Salem and Bend. 
 
“We’re hearing tremendous stories and a lot of tears and that reminds us all of the reason we’re doing this,” King added. “The application fairs are really uplifting for everyone even though our workers are on their feet for 8-10 hours. Once we get through this next month I’ll be pretty happy and can begin doing this the way we intended, having the website do most of the work rather than individual hands.”
 
Next on King’s agenda is the upcoming Cover Oregon board meeting slated for Dec. 12 where he’ll be giving a report on the manual application process along with an update on the work by Oracle. 
 
King hasn’t been shy about keeping the key decision-makers informed, and has been having ongoing discussions with Mike Bonetto — the governor’s incoming chief of staff, Bruce Goldberg and the governor himself. 
 
“This has been quite the challenge and I wish the technology had worked as intended,” King said, “I’m responsible – you can hold me accountable for that – now we’re doing our best to make sure we get as many people covered by January 1 as we possibly can.”
 
Diane can be reached at [email protected].
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