Cover Oregon goes to Congress, defends work that’s been done

Cover Oregon goes to Congress, defends work that’s been done »Play Video
Greg Van Pelt, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's top adviser on Cover Oregon, testifies before Congress Thursday, April 3, 2014.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A representative of Cover Oregon told a congressional panel Thursday that he’s proud of the work that’s been done "to improve Oregonians' lives."

“While the launch of the Affordable Care Act in Oregon has been different than we hoped, over 300,000 individuals have enrolled in health insurance plans since Oct. 1,” said Greg Van Pelt, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s top adviser on Cover Oregon.

He said those words despite the failed rollout of the Cover Oregon website and the fact that it is still not working.

But U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, told the KATU On Your Side Investigators, via Skype from his office on Capitol Hill, that he doesn’t think there’s much to be proud of here.

"For heaven's sake, that's an enormous amount of money even by Washington standards. One hundred to 200 million dollars? We need answers, the taxpayers deserve to know the truth and get a clear set of answers here," said Walden.

Walden has requested the Government Accountability Office to investigate Cover Oregon. 

At one point during the congressional hearing, Van Pelt was grilled by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, who wanted to know when Oregon first alerted the federal government that the state’s health exchange would not be operational.

Extensive reporting by the On Your Side Investigators has never found evidence that Cover Oregon officials ever alerted the federal government there was an issue.

Walden said there’s still a lot that’s not known about the numbers Cover Oregon is throwing out there, like the 300,000 it claims to have enrolled.

“You can be signed up, but that doesn’t mean you bought,” he said. “This is like going to the car lot and doing the test drive, but you gotta also buy the car in order to own it.”

Walden said he’s waiting to see what the real numbers are since he said the 15 percent to 20 percent who sign up for health insurance never buy it.

Twenty-eight hundred miles away from Capitol Hill, jewelry maker Brandon Czarny took in the congressional testimony with great interest from his Northeast Portland apartment. He's been trying to get coverage for an infected tooth since Dec. 12 when he applied in person at a Department of Human Services office.

Czarny showed On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano the notebook in which he's written the myriad of phone numbers Cover Oregon officials have told him to call in the months since. He said twice over the phone they've told him they couldn't find his application. 

Of Van Pelt's testimony, Czarny said, "He was trying to note everything that's good. They can talk all day -- it's the action that counts. They need to make a bigger effort to get this resolved because most of these people waiting for benefits aren't waiting for nothing. They have health or dental issues that need to be resolved."