Oregon Democrat blames “big business” for his state’s Obamacare woes

Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has found a new punching bag for his state’s Obamacare exchange website woes. Politico notes that the Oregon Democrat is blaming “big business” for the problems with the state’s health insurance exchange website, CoverOregon.com.

The problems with this particular state exchange are, arguably, even worse than those that occurred on the federal exchange. As of mid-November, Cover Oregon had not enrolled anyone into a private health plan through the exchange. Numbers provided by the Obama Administration found that just 44 people had selected health plans in the first two months of the open enrollment period.

Though enrollment numbers have improved in recent weeks, Oregon officials are still seeing enrollments below even the lowest-level projections. The state’s exchange website, by the way, still isn’t fully functional, despite getting $59 million from the federal government to assist with implementation.

Merkley, who is up for re-election this year, blames Oracle, the California-based company contracted to build the website, for this sordid mess — and it’s a talking point that’s being repeated by Democrats around the country:

The Oregon Democrat called out software developer Oracle and its president and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz by name in town hall meetings and to local media over the Christmas recess. He said they’re responsible for the state’s “Cover Oregon” website problems.

“We have a horrendous state software glitch,” Merkley said at a town hall in the Portland area. He also told constituents that Catz took full responsibility for the problems in a conversation he had with her.

“I called the president of Oracle. Her name is Safra Catz. She wouldn’t even let me talk for 10 minutes; she just apologized saying they’ve never had a failure like they’ve had for Oregon,” Merkley told local CBS affiliate KOIN.
“When a top global technology firm is hired for a project, you expect results,” said Martina McLennan, a spokeswoman for Merkley. “There’s surely plenty of blame to go around, but at this point the focus needs to be on ensuring that every Oregonian has access to health coverage and the new protections that are available under the law. Sen. Merkley’s focus is on making the system work so that the law’s benefits continue to reach as many Oregon families as possible.”

Shorter Merkley: Business bad, government good. Or something.

The talking point may certainly fit in with the economic populism that Democrats are trying hard to push in an election year, but Merkley is, unsurprisingly omitting a very big part of the story.

While it’s certainly true that Oracle didn’t hand Oregon a quality product, the project was mired in government bureaucracy and mismanagement. The Oregonian noted in October that the state’s exchange had vastly tougher performance standards than required by the federal government. State officials also had to contend with late-breaking and constantly changing rules passed on by the Obama Administration.

It didn’t help that Oregon couldn’t use funds for work on the website until it had completed its business plan in February 2012. What’s more, the Oregon paper pointed out quoting a state health official, a complex project of this size and scale takes four to five years to finish. Oracle was asked to complete it in half that time.

The state and federal government’s share of responsibility in this is inconvenient for Merkley and other Democrats. But it pretty much sums up the entire platform on which Democrats are running these days. In their minds, government benevolent entity which rarely screws up.

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