Oregon creates temporary plan to ensure care for seriously ill

Program designed as safety net as state exchange is tweaked




PORTLAND — Under pressure from legislative leaders, the Oregon Health Authority announced Friday that it will create a new program to ensure that some Oregonians with serious medical conditions don’t lose health care coverage because of problems with the state’s insurance exchange.

People in the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, which insures people denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as cancer, will be automatically enrolled in the new plan if they have not signed up for private insurance.

The pool that serves about 11,000 people will dissolve at the end of the year because denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions will no longer be allowed under the new federal health care law. But Oregon’s technologically troubled insurance exchange may have prevented some of those covered by the pool to sign up in time to be covered starting Jan. 1.

“We want to make sure that members of the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool do not have a gap in coverage,” Tina Edlund, acting director of the Oregon Health Authority, said in a statement Friday.

Edlund announced the changes about an hour after Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek released a statement saying they were concerned vulnerable Oregonians would lose insurance coverage.

Even those who applied through Cover Oregon by the Dec. 4 deadline might not get coverage come January. With the exchange’s website still broken, state officials have admitted they didn’t have enough time to process tens of thousands of paper applications.

“We can’t allow insurance coverage for these people to lapse simply because of problems with a website,” Kotek said. “We have the ability to make certain they can access health care until they can get enrolled in new insurance plans. It’s the right thing to do.”

Courtney and Kotek said OHA has the ability to create temporary relief for high risk pool enrollees but would likely need legislation to reconcile the transfer of funds necessary to pay for the extension.

Earlier this week, technology problems with the national health care website forced the Obama administration to extend a similar federal program by a month.