The open enrollment period was changed to April 30 due to difficulties signing up for the exchange

With days remaining before open enrollment period for Cover Oregon was set conclude, Gov. John Kitzhaber announced the exchange would extend the deadline another month.

Oregonians now have until April 30 to apply for and enroll in the state health insurance exchange.

Cover Oregon has taken much criticism for its website, which has thus far failed to work properly. As a result, residents statewide have faced a longer wait time between the application process and enrolling in an insurance program.

“I know that for too many Oregonians, the Cover Oregon website and its ongoing technical problems have created delays, confusion, and frustration,” Kitzhaber said. “I worked with (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius to give Oregonians more opportunity to secure health care coverage and get the financial help they deserve.”

So far, Cover Oregon has received 175,000 enrollments and the hope is the deadline extension and some improvements to the capabilities of the website will encourage others to sign up.

“The goal (of the extension) is to let people know that they can enroll and they can get coverage,” explained Cover Oregon spokesperson Ariane Holm. “Despite our website challenges, people can enroll, so this is giving people more time to apply, access financial help, and get covered.”

Holm said that people can now apply for Cover Oregon on their website, and once application is processed, they can use the website to enroll in a coverage plan. Cover Oregon still has to manually process the application, which Holm said can take anywhere between three and 10 days.

While most Oregonians now have until April 30 to enroll in Cover Oregon, some can do so after the deadline if they experience what is called a qualifying event.

“Those are based on the Affordable Care Act rules,” Holm said. “Qualifying events allow individual families to change their health insurance outside of the open enrollment period because of circumstances such as marriage, child birth, adoption, legal separation, death, and loss of employment, among others.”

She added that such events qualify because they will likely change either the household size or income.

In Crook County, Kim Kibble, the Cover Oregon agent for Farmers Insurance, has found that most people are frustrated by the exchange and its website issues.

“People try to submit it online, but they can’t so they come in and see an agent,” she said. “A lot of people like to do things on their own – take care of it, get it done – and it’s not possible with Cover Oregon.”

As a result, Kibble has had to devote the past three months of her job exclusively to helping people navigate the application and enrollment process.

Leading up to the initial March 31 deadline, she noticed a surge in sign-ups, but since the deadline extension, they have leveled off. Kibble anticipates the same surge at the end of April, but stressed that people should not wait that long to apply. She explained that the deadline applies to enrollment in a health care plan, which is only possible after waiting several days for Cover Oregon to process the application.

“That’s the big difference,” she said. “You have to get an application into Cover Oregon and sign up for the health care by April 30. That doesn’t happen overnight. People need to get in at least a week ahead of time, so that they can get their information back that they need to sign up for health care.”

Those who miss the deadline face the possibility of a 1 percent tax on their annual income or a $95 fee per household occupant, whichever is higher. In addition, they would have to wait until Nov. 15 for the next open enrollment period, and coverage would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015 or later.

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