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As We Await Word on The King v. Burwell Decision, Let's Revisit Why It's Before SCOTUS: The Disaster of Cover Oregon

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Like dominos crashing in a row, many States are realizing their Obamacare exchanges are either bleeding money, on the brink of insolvency, or sadly shutting down their State controlled operations and placing their citizens’ healthcare under the federal exchange and Washington bureaucrats.

According to a recent and important story in The Hill, many of the 13 states that established their own health care exchanges under ObamaCare are fearful they won’t survive when federal dollars dry up next year. Hawaii is the most recent to give up independent operations. Democratic Gov. David Ide put it best when he revealed the Health Connector was “unable to generate sufficient revenues to sustain operations.”

Hawaii isn’t the only exchange experiencing trouble in paradise. Nevada discovered more than 1,500 defects embedded in the site last year and joined the federal exchange. Colorado, Minnesota, and Vermont are next likely to remove the constant and ever-increasing drain on their state’s budget and shutter their failed exchanges. But none of these failures are close to matching the man-made disaster that is Cover Oregon, the Beaver State’s version of ObamaCare.

The story of Oregon’s health care portal is a story of waste, fraud, and potentially criminal abuse. Once the darling of the Obama White House, the truth has been steadily emerging. Congressional hearings should not merely detail the vast waste of taxpayers dollars but shine sunlight on facts so blatantly illegal that even President Obama’s own Department of Justice will be forced to finally begin necessary criminal proceedings in this case.

Almost before the ink was dry on ObamaCare, Oregon set out to establish a model exchange. The state, flush with federal cash, started their state’s healthcare exchange “Cover Oregon”, complete with a multimillion whimsical advertisement campaign that would make participants in Woodstock proud.

Think Progress was effusive, calling the ads “whimsical” and “slick.” Soon, however, it became apparent that the exchange simply didn’t work. Comedian John Oliver put it simply:

“…[A] waste tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on a website that doesn’t work.”

Then-Governor John Kitzhaber intended that Cover Oregon would be a cornerstone of his re-election campaign. Previously undisclosed communications between the governor and his staff show the state’s official announcements about the Exchange were shaped by Kitzhaber’s political consultants.

But as troubling developments continued to mount for the nonworking health exchange, Kitzhaber’s team became diligently focused, not on providing a working healthcare system for the citizens of the state, but on damage control for the Governor’s reelection campaign. The Govenor and his political team seemed only worried that Cover Oregon would quickly transform from an accomplishment cornerstone into a millstone of failure, crushing Kitzhaber’s campaign.

So Governor Kitzhaber flouted common sense and standard ethical advice and decided to task his campaign manager with overseeing the official government project. Patricia McCaig, the governor’s campaign consultant and self-described “Princess of Darkness”, became an Oregon state employee and took over as project manager. This despite her own admission that she knew virtually nothing about healthcare reform. Unsurprisingly, fearing political disaster from the failure to get even one Oregon resident successfully enrolled in the program, she decided to kill Cover Oregon, throwing the $300 million spent on the project into the garbage.

Then after wasting more federal grant funding than any other state except California, she chose to have the state of Oregon sue Oracle, the software company contracted to develop Cover Oregon’s website and the database supporting the exchange. This action came despite numerous pleas from Oracle and other experts involved that the site just needed more time and testing. (Oracle has since filed suit, personally naming Ms. McCaig and other campaign advisors.) In the interim, Kitzhaber’s political career finally collapsed due to a scandal involving his girlfriend and local environmental groups seeking to influence his policies.

Congress is now involved with the Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee pledging to get to the bottom of the overlapping and intertwined scandals. There is mounting evidence that Kitzhaber’s political advisors even attempted to destroy emails and documents pertaining to the decision killing Cover Oregon.

The last major hearing where a witness took the Fifth Amendment was Lois Lerner during the IRS scandal. There is little doubt that should the Princess of Darkness be called to testify, she will follow Lerner’s lead. It may make for good television, but it won’t get US taxpayers their money back. Despite the fact that Oregon filed suit, shouldn’t we get back the more than $303,000,000? As the project managers in Oregon chose to unnecessarily obtain more than any other state with a similar population, Congress should demand those funds be returned by Oregon regardless of the outcome of their suit.

Making sense of this twisted and sordid tale seems nearly impossible. Congress must force the DoJ to publicly investigate. While Chairman Jim Jordan of the Health Subcommittee of
Government Reform Committee has yet to schedule a hearing, Oregon’s own Congressman Greg Walden should use his seniority as a Subcommittee Chairman of the House Commerce Committee to demand an oversight hearing before that Committee too. Trusting the state investigators to give us all of the facts would be more than naive. Then-Governor Kitzhaber promised to answer an ethics review and succeeded in secretly squashing it. As many of the people who contributed to this massive taxpayer fraud are still in power, how can we trust the State of Oregon to conduct an open investigation with a fair resolution?


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