If you haven’t been paying attention to the state-run public exchange in Oregon, it’s a mess.

As a result, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber on Wednesday granted Oregonians the opportunity to enroll in private health insurance on the Cover Oregon exchange through April 30. The exchange is by far the most defective of all the state-run and federally run public exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, as the website portal to apply online is still not working and the SHOP exchange never started accepting applications at all. Consumers, and brokers enrolling consumers, have been submitting paper applications or using the call center to apply for individual coverage.

“For my counterparts who view Cover Oregon as a source of revenue, there’s a tremendous frustration with the process,” says Michael Welch, current president of the Oregon Association of Health Underwriters and a group benefits broker at Larry Sherwood and Associates, Inc. in Portland. “There’s a lot of babysitting to be done with the process and because applying takes so long, brokers get calls from clients, ‘Do I have insurance yet? Do I have insurance yet?’”

He has many broker peers who are actively trying to enroll on the exchanges, and have changed their business models accordingly, and others who feel it is an obligation to help individuals who ask for help. Welch’s agency, which caters mostly to Oregon-based groups with 10 to 200 employees on average, has gone a step further to actually avoid Cover Oregon business unless it’s a dependent or close acquaintance of an existing client and who’s desperate for help.


“Candidly, it’s just not cost-effective,” he says. “Until the process becomes more automated, we just can’t afford to help those people at this point.”

Until yesterday when the deadline was extended, Welch says his peers were receiving more referrals from the Cover Oregon call center, though he wasn’t sure if it was because of the looming March 31 deadline or simply because Cover Oregon is starting to operate more efficiently. “They [at the call center] have been fairly broker-friendly and good about distributing leads out to brokers,” he says, noting that an operator will locate a registered broker in the same postal zip code as the consumer seeking broker advice.

Still though, he says most brokers are flabbergasted at the disarray of the exchange. “It’s gotten better, we now have 30,000 registered where we just had 18,000 a couple months ago, but it’s a very slow, manual pace,” he says.

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