Cover Oregon: Apply now if you want health insurance this year

Cover Oregon: Apply now if you want health insurance this year »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Time is running out to apply for private health insurance through Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange. Individuals have one week left to sign up if they want coverage by Apr. 1. The final deadline is March 31.

Those who do not enroll through Cover Oregon and pick a plan will have to wait to sign up until the next open enrollment period starting Nov. 15, 2014.

As of Friday, interim director Bruce Goldberg said 134,400 people were enrolled through Cover Oregon; 42,000 were enrolled in private insurance and the remaining 92,000 were enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon's version of medicaid.

Complicating matters, Goldberg learned on Friday that it's looking it's less likely the website will be ready for people to enroll themselves before the deadline.

Teri Lynch is one of thousands of Oregonians trying to enroll in President Barack Obama's federally mandated health care coverage before the deadline. After the deadline, the law states that people will face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their income. The Internal Revenue Service is the enforcement agency for the fine.

"I think lots of people had this false hope," Lynch said.

Lynch applied for health insurance with Cover Oregon in December expecting like so many others that her coverage would kick in on Jan. 1. But Lynch didn't receive her enrollment packet until this week. Lynch said was eligible for the Oregon Health Plan.

"My first thought is that it's very disappointing," Lynch said, because she had to wait so long.

While she waited, Lynch said it became a struggled to get her medications since she did not have insurance. Were it not for discounts through big box stores, Lynch said she would have had to front hundreds of dollars for her medications because she was not insured by Cover Oregon.

Oregon's had one of the worst roll outs in the country. Despite a grand vision, an earlier start and millions of dollars from the government, the state's health insurance exchange website has been in shambles for months. More than three months after its Oct. 1 launch date, Oregon still doesn't have a website that allows Oregonians to self-enroll.

When it became clear that a technology-riddled website could jeopardize enrollments, Cover Oregon resorted to hiring more than 400 people to process health insurance applications the old fashioned way, on paper.

On Friday, the On Your Side Investigators learned there is a still a backlog of people whose applications are in processing limbo.

"There are currently about 10,000 applications currently in process," Michael Cox said, a Cover Oregon spokesman.

Cox said some of those applications are new, some are old, but all are close to missing the March 31 enrollment deadline.

"Right now, we're working on every possible solution to make sure that those folks who've applied for coverage get the opportunity to enroll in coverage," Cox said.

Cox went on to say there are approximately 50,000 Oregonians enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon but have not picked an insurance plan.

"It's now in their hands," Cox said. "They have everything they need to enroll in a plan. It makes sense that someone would want to take a little more time to evaluate their options and shop."

For those who have not applied for insurance through Cover Oregon and want insurance, Cox said to enroll and pick a plan by March 31, or people will have to wait until the next open enrollment period.

"I know I am one of the lucky ones," Lynch said. "There are so many people out there that have far worse ailments than I do."

Cox said there some exceptions to the deadline for those who have a "qualifying life event," including women who just had a baby, individuals who just moved to Oregon or individuals who lost a job that insured them. Also, if you are eligible for OHP, Cox said you can apply anytime.

If you'd like to apply for coverage through Cover Oregon, click on www.CoverOregon.com.

Deadline Extension?

In January, Oregon asked the federal government for permission to give Oregonians more time to comply with the Affordable Care Act because of delays with the state's online health insurance exchange.

The Senate approved a bill Thursday ordering Cover Oregon to seek a one-month extension of the March 31 deadline for people to sign up for health insurance. It also would require the state to seek federal permission for Oregon residents to earn tax credits if they purchase coverage directly from an insurance company.  The state is already seeking approval for both steps, and the Obama administration has said it would grant tax credits to people who went around the exchange.

"I think there's a real desire among those of us in the exchange and policy makers in the state of Oregon to give folks as much time as possible to enroll and apply, " Cox said.

Friday, a spokesman at Gov. John Kitzhaber's office, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, said no one has heard back from the federal government yet.

As a point of reference, Massachusetts was granted a three-month extension of the deadline, until June 30, because problems with that state's website had left it with a backlog of 50,000 unprocessed applications. The Massachusetts site was incompatible with some browsers, is plagued with error messages and sluggish operation, and sometimes shuts down completely. Massachusetts heard back from the feds within a week.