Don't pull the plug yet

It appears there is more than enough blame to go around over the debacle that is the Cover Oregon website. But the problems with the website are one of two stories about Oregon's participation in the national health care reform effort, stories that should be considered separately.

The first story is about what didn't work: The Cover Oregon website.

The other is about what is working, and working to the benefit of many Oregonians, judging by their own accounts: the Cover Oregon exchange, and the policies available through the more cumbersome paper application process.

People trying to find coverage in the individual market are justified in being upset with state officials who allowed the website to launch — and fail miserably — when they were warned it wasn't ready.

Two state officials involved, Rocky King, the director of Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority's chief information officer, Carolyn Lawson, have left their posts, reportedly for personal reasons. It may be that others should be held accountable, but that won't be clear until a consultant hired to review the process issues its report.

In the meantime, it's important to recognize the other story. The website may not be working right, but Oregonians who have signed up for coverage on the paper system report they are finding policies that are saving them hundreds of dollars a month in premiums.

Southern Oregon residents who shared their experiences in Tuesday's Mail Tribune acknowledge the backup system of filling out paper forms and waiting on hold for telephone assistance was frustrating. One called it a nightmare. But they were uniformly happy with the results, even ecstatic, when they found out how much they would save over their old policies.

Certainly, state officials have much to answer for over the mess that was the website project. But some of the loudest criticism appears to be more about the next election than about health care.

The Republican National Committee has filed public records requests for the salary and vacation records of King and Lawson, and a spokesman says the RNC plans to target Democratic officeholders over their support for Cover Oregon.

State Reps. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who is running against Gov. John Kitzhaber, and Jason Conger, R-Bend, running against U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, have already called for Cover Oregon to be shut down.

The RNC is well within its rights to request public records, which may help answer questions about the development of the failed website. But calling for shutting down the entire Cover Oregon system is premature and irresponsible.

If a truckload of food were dispatched to aid starving people, but the truck broke down along the way, it wouldn't make much sense to declare the food unusable and throw it out. It would make more sense to find another way to deliver it to the people who needed it. That's what Cover Oregon is doing with health coverage, by all accounts reasonably well under the circumstances.

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