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Kitzhaber, lawmakers call for end to Cover Oregon

But special session unlikely before Nov. 4 election.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and lawmakers from both parties say they want to dissolve Cover Oregon if the board of the state health insurance exchange fails to vote itself out of existence.

But with less than 60 days before the Nov. 4 election, lawmakers are unlikely to meet in a special session to abolish the public corporation.

The latest that lawmakers have met during an election year was Sept. 18, 2002, when they ended the year’s fifth budget-balancing session.

Lawmakers created Cover Oregon in 2011, but the failure of a state website has prompted competing lawsuits by the state and Oracle Corp., the prime contractor.

Meanwhile, Oregon has enrolled people in private insurance plans through the federal exchange, and it employed extra workers in the process.

The Cover Oregon board is considering a recommendation to lawmakers about whether its functions should be transferred to other state and federal agencies — Kitzhaber said last week that would be the path of minimum risk — or to remain as a stand-alone entity.

The board has delayed a decision, but may proceed later this month.

That delay triggered critical comments from the Legislature’s presiding officers, both Democrats, as well as minority Republicans in both chambers.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said it’s time to end Cover Oregon.

“Enough is enough,” Courtney said in a statement Friday. “Oregonians deserve better than Cover Oregon has delivered.”

Courtney says he plans to introduce a bill for its abolition. Though he can do so before his current term ends, he will have to be re-elected to his Senate seat Nov. 4 to see it through the 2015 session, which opens Jan. 12.

Senate Republicans joined in support of abolition Saturday.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, added her voice Monday. She also criticized Cover Oregon for apparent errors in calculating tax credits for insurance recipients that they may be faced with paying back.

She said Cover Oregon officials should be prepared to explain those problems when the relevant legislative committees meet next week.

“I’m prepared to do what is necessary to help those who may face hardship because of past errors,” Kotek said in a statement. “Going forward, the legislature can’t keep cleaning up Cover Oregon’s messes.”

House Republicans, seeking to regain a majority, have been trying to cast the Nov. 4 election as a referendum on Democrats and Cover Oregon. In two recent releases, the House GOP campaign committee quoted Democrats on the initial status of Cover Oregon and listed a series of 2014 votes on committee amendments offered by Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, who at that point was seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. The amendments were rejected.

The 2011 legislation creating Cover Oregon passed the Senate, 24-5, and the House, 48-12. In that session, Democrats led Republicans in the Senate, 16-14, and the House was split equally between the parties.


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