Cover Oregon website can now enroll some people

SALEM, Ore. (AP) More than four months after Cover Oregon promised to enroll Oregonians for health insurance online, the agency confirmed Tuesday that some people were finally able to complete online enrollment from start to finish.

Cover Oregon on Tuesday rolled out its online enrollment system to insurance agents and community organizations, allowing them to directly enroll people in one sitting. Cover Oregon sent an email to agents that described the online portal. With the help of an agent or community group, most people should be able to fill out an application, determine whether they are eligible for financial assistance, choose a plan and enroll, said a Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox.

However, Cox could not provide hard online enrollment numbers Tuesday.

The On Your Side Investigators reached out to more than a dozen Cover Oregon-certified insurance agents in Multnomah County to evaluate their progress Tuesday. Of the half a dozen KATU was able to reach, none said they were able to complete end-to-end enrollment.

Robin Schott, a benefits accounts manager at Leonard Adams Insurance in Southwest Portland, agreed to walk KATU through the process. After getting past what she described as onerous security and firewalls to get to the site, Schott clicked on the "Get Started" tab at the top of the screen.

It didn't work, at least not on her web portal.

It was a letdown for Schott, who looked forward to the promise of end-to-end online enrollment after months of helping clients sign up through a hybrid paper and computer application process.

"At this point, from an agency perspective, since I can't even start a new application for anybody, I would say that we're still at square one where you have to fill out the paper application and send it in."

Despite frustrations at the beginning, Schott was pleased to see improvements on the website in other ways; primarily, agents now have access to their client's application progress for the first time. That's vital for agents.

"We can view the accounts that have been started, either by the member on their own, or submitted an application," Schott said.

Richard "Rick" Skayhan, a broker at Leonard Adams Insurance, echoed Schott's sentiments.

"We have much better access than we had before because, before, we would send the
application off and then we'd have to blindly hope that the data is going to be there for what
it is we're trying to get accomplished," he said.

According to Cox, people with more "complex" applications could have to return to the website after the Cover Oregon staff process a portion of it. Cox told the On Your Side Invesitgators "more complex" could including determining eligibility - such as a couple who filled out one Cover Oregon application but filed their taxes separately. The On Your Side Investigators also uncovered cases where something as small as having multiple addresses on one application form delayed the process for weeks.

Skayhan continued, "It''s another step. Let's say it's one step in the positive side from the 15 steps in the negative that we had after the launch last October. So at least now, we have an online way 24/7 to be able to get in and look at the status of accounts."

According to Cox, 800 agents and community groups were trained on the system and its known problems last week, as well as given instructions for contacting Cover Oregon should problems arise. However, the On Your Side Investigators learned several agents had not been trained by Tuesday morning. Cox said a few training sessions were canceled for President's Day and reschedule for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Cover Oregon's website lists insurance agents and community groups certified to use the new online enrollment system. Individuals or families working alone can still submit applications online that will be processed by hand.

There's no date for fully launching the enrollment system to the general public.

"Any decision that's ultimately made about releasing functionality to the public has to be balanced with the current process we're using," Cox said. "In other words, it would have to improve enrollments. That's the benchmark."

Cover Oregon had initially planned a limited launch Oct. 1 for insurance agents and community groups trained to use the system, with a full launch two weeks later. The system wasn't ready, officials pulled the plug just days before, and a series of missed deadlines ensued.

Officials hastily pulled together a backup plan, asking people to submit a paper form or online PDF application, which would then be processed by hundreds of newly hired or temporarily reassigned workers. The multi-step application process requires applicants to wait for days or weeks after submitting their application to find out whether they qualify for tax credits or the publicly funded Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid for the poor.

Those who qualified for private insurance would then have to select a plan, either online or through the mail, and pay their premium before coverage would take effect.

Just over 100,000 people have navigated that process, about two-thirds of them getting Medicaid and the rest private insurance plans. Another 123,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid through a process that bypasses Cover Oregon.

Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: