Congressional panel releases critical Cover Oregon report

AP News
|
Posted: May 25, 2016 5:26 PM
Congressional panel releases critical Cover Oregon report

SALEM, Oregon (AP) — Republicans on a U.S. House committee have found former Gov. John Kitzhaber and a federal agency mishandled the creation of Oregon's health insurance enrollment website, with the Democratic governor's political advisers making decisions based on his re-election campaign.

In a staff report released Wednesday, the Republicans on the committee said they are asking the Justice Department and state attorney general to conduct criminal investigations into the actions involving Cover Oregon.

"More than $305 million in federal taxpayer dollars were sent to Oregon state for purposes of implementing a state exchange to benefit the people," the committee said in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. "The state exchange never came to fruition, and the money is gone."

The Republican-controlled Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said its investigation showed state officials misused federal money and improperly commingled official and political resources to enrich the Kitzhaber's political prospects. However Democrats on the panel blamed the state's contractor, California-based Oracle Corporation, for the website's problems. In their own report released Wednesday Democrats say Oracle failed to deliver a functioning website and misled state officials.

Oregon produced the country's worst rollout of the new national health insurance program. While the crippled federal website eventually worked, Oregon's failed to enroll a single person online. The state had to resort to hiring 400 people to process paper applications.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' "failed oversight of the development and implementation of Cover Oregon resulted in millions of wasted taxpayer dollars," the Republican panel said. The federal agency should reform its grant and oversight process, the panel said.

Republicans on the committee said documents and testimony obtained are consistent with the findings of the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency. The Republican staff report also noted Cover Oregon is not unique.

"Several other states have had significant problems developing and implementing a health insurance exchange," the report said.

An email seeking comment from Kitzhaber early Wednesday morning through his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, wasn't immediately returned. Representatives of CMS declined to comment.

Ken Glueck, senior vice president at Oracle Corporation, said Wednesday the company feels "pretty vindicated" by the Republicans' report.

Glueck took issue with the report by the panel's minority members, saying Democrats never responded to company requests for meetings and conducted no analysis of their own. Glueck said Oracle would welcome any independent probes by the Justice Department or the state.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., rejected Oracle's claims they weren't involved in the investigation and said evidence obtained by the panel "reveals a company focused on covering up its incompetence and lining its own pockets at the expense of Americans trying to obtain health insurance."

In other findings, Republicans on the committee said:

— Officials with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services applauded the progress at Cover Oregon and awarded the project additional federal dollars even as the quality assurance vendor rated the project as "high risk."

— State officials and Kitzhaber's campaign advisers "collaborated to such an extent that the lines between official and political activities became blurry."

Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 amid allegations his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, did private consulting work for organizations seeking to influence state policies. The report noted discussions about Cover Oregon often included individuals with no authority over the matter, and it found that at least one email included Hayes, "who did not have any Cover Oregon role or responsibilities."

In their own report, Democrats said Oracle "misled state officials by repeatedly assuring them its work was on track and on schedule when in fact it was riddled with errors." The Democrats' report also said independent experts said Oracle's work was so flawed that the state should consider withholding payment to the contractor.

In March 2015, Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation dissolving Cover Oregon.