Oracle Corp., the giant technology company at the center of the Cover Oregon controversy, has significantly downsized its army of software developers trying to salvage Oregon’s health insurance exchange website.
What that means for the Oregon exchange -- which has been plagued by bugs and remains largely unfinished -- is an open question. Exchange acting director Bruce Goldberg did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
In the past week about 100 Oracle employees have peeled off the Cover Oregon project, leaving approximately 65 in place. State officials have repeatedly blamed its failed health exchange website on Oracle’s shoddy work and missed deadlines.
Though the state had stopped paying Oracle, the two sides kept an uneasy truce, with the company essentially agreeing to fix the most serious bugs for free, documents show. Now, however, the remaining Oracle employees will, according to multiple sources, work only on maintenance and operations. That means that the company’s work on finishing the site has largely ceased -- whether permanently or not remains unclear.
The Cover Oregon exchange still does not allow individual Oregonians to sign up for health insurance on their own as is available in 49 other states and Washington, D.C. Recently, agents and certified applications assisters gained the use of a password-protected beta website to enroll people in a single sitting. As of last Friday, more than 700 people had been enrolled online.
It is unclear whether the Oracle downsizing was mutually agreed upon by exchange and company officials. One red flag: exchange officials reportedly had little to no say in which Oracle personnel stayed and which left. That means the exchange had scant control over what expertise will be retained, including the skills needed to complete parts of the unfinished project.
Several of the functions considered crucial to the site are not done despite being part of Oracle’s initial promises:
Public enrollment was supposed to allow 10,000 people to self-enroll online at the same time. The site has not been certified for public access.
The interfaces with private insurers have not been finished. That means even if an agent enrolls you and gets a success message, in most cases your information still must be sent to insurers using an old-fashioned spreadsheet, for them to upload. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare envisioned the insurer interface as a crucial part of the enrollment process.
The exchange’s interface with the state Medicaid program to get people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan is also not done. Instead, a backup system in which Cover Oregon sends information to the Oregon Health Authority for manual entry is in place. The backup system has been riddled with problems and reports of applications gone missing or delayed for months.
The portion of Cover Oregon intended for small businesses and their employees to enroll and qualify for tax credits remains unfinished and on hold indefinitely. Much of the programming is untested and was done early on, before problems with allegedly shoddy Oracle programming were discovered by Cover Oregon.
Interfaces with tribal health plans, much like SHOP, remain unfinished and on hold indefinitely.
Cover Oregon emerged this fall as a political and business disaster, both for state of Oregon and Oracle. The exchange stopped paying Oracle in September after it became clear it could not deliver the promised functional health care exchange on time. The firm had already been paid more than $90 million.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and other politicians demanded that Oracle’s senior executives fix the problem on the company’s dime. Critics blasted Kitzhaber for being out of touch on Cover Oregon. He admitted he was out of the loop, praising the smooth rollout of Oregon’s exchange in a speech in late October, three weeks after the site’s failure to launch.
The state was forced to pour millions of additional dollars into a manual application system in lieu of a functional exchange, hiring and transferring more than 400 state and temporary employees to hand-process applications.
Oracle threw more bodies at the problem, including some of its senior technology experts. By December, according to Oracle invoices, it had nearly 170 contractors working on the Cover Oregon project, many of them billing more than $300 an hour.
The firm has repeatedly declined to comment.
Goldberg, the exchange director, has said that if the site can’t offer full self-enrollment to the public by March 31, the exchange would consider alternatives to proceeding with Oracle to finish the site. Those options could include hiring a different firm to finish the site, or obtaining systems already completed by other states or the federal government.
That analysis is being conducted by technology consultant Deloitte Inc., which is expanding its Cover Oregon presence as Oracle contracts.
Deloitte served as the systems integrator, or general manager, of several more successful state exchanges. Oregon made the fateful decision not to hire a systems integrator to oversee its exchange, instead putting the project in Oracle’s hands.
The state has hired a Portland law firm to explore potential litigation against Oracle.
©2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)