Oregon will hire 400 to process new insurance

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PORTLAND — Because Oregon's health exchange website still hasn't enrolled a single person more than a month after its launch, state officials plan to hire at least 400 workers to manually process paper applications for health insurance.

The announcement comes amid worries that Cover Oregon could run out of time to sign up enough Oregonians by the Dec. 15 deadline for those who need coverage starting in January.

Software glitches have prevented the website from accurately determining whether people qualify for federal subsidies or publicly funded health care.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has said the exchange website may not be fixed before Dec. 31. So, officials are now urging people who need or want insurance to fill out a 19-page paper application or an online PDF and return it as soon as possible.

Thus far, the state has received only about 13,000 paper applications, Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said. The state has estimated that 217,000 Oregonians would enroll via the exchange.

Review by hand

Processing the applications by hand is likely to take weeks, rather than the minutes that the website promised.

Staff members will review the paper applications, determine whether applicants are eligible for state-funded health care or tax credits to offset the cost of private insurance, then send the determination in the mail.

Applicants will then be able to choose the plan they want and notify Cover Oregon, which will pass along the information to the selected insurance company.

The new hires will cost nearly $4 million through mid-December, officials said, and the existing budget can handle that. Most of the positions will be temporary.

Officials say one group they'll especially focus on is Oregonians with pre-existing conditions currently covered by the state's high-risk pool. The pool will dissolve by year's end, and members who don't sign up for coverage by Dec. 15 will face a break in coverage.