SALEM – Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber put on an emotional performance before a state legislative committee on Cover Oregon Thursday, banging on a table with his fist and laying the blame for the state’s failed health care exchange squarely at the feet of technology contractor Oracle.
The governor said he told the state attorney general to immediately bring legal action against Oracle for its involvement in building the website portion of the health insurance exchange. He said wanted to recover millions of dollars in tax money that went towards a website that doesn't work.
“Oracle’s failure is unacceptable to Oregonians who need and deserve access to quality health care,” Kitzhaber said. "We were repeatedly assured that this project was going to launch on time."
The attorney general's office said Thursday that it was still studying the facts in the case and the various options open to the state.
The Cover Oregon website was supposed to launch last September as a one-stop shopping experience for purchasing private health insurance. The site was never able to do that for a customer in one sitting and this year the state decided to scrap the exchange and replace it with the federal system.
Kitzhaber said before legislators Thursday that mistakes have been made on both sides of the nearly quarter-of-a-billion-dollar health care system. He pressed that it was time to hold Oracle, the largest private contractor, accountable.
State Representative Dennis Richardson asked Kitzhaber how he could take that position when the state's failure to hire a systems integrator to oversee the project was clearly a cause for much of the site's problems. Richardson is the GOP candidate for this fall's gubernatorial election.
“There were clearly mistakes made by Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority,” Kitzhaber responded.
“I’ve held accountable those people involved in those decisions and I will be held accountable,” Kitzhaber said. "But we cannot hold harmless the main technology contractor who was involved.”
Kitzhaber was referring to his upcoming re-election and the recent dismissal of the Oregon Health Authority's directors, along with Cover Oregon's chief operating officer and chief information officer.
Kitzhaber said that despite the state's failure, Oracle could not take the position that they simply didn't know they were expected to deliver a functioning website at the end of the project.
"You don't become the world's second largest technology company with that attitude," he said.
Oregon paid Oracle $134 million in federal funds to build what turned out to be a glitch-filled website. Oregon later abandoned plans for fixing the site and is withholding $25.6 million in payments from Oracle.
Thursday afternoon Oracle responded to the Governor's comments.
“Contrary to the story the State is promoting, Oracle has never led the Oregon Health Exchange project. OHA and Cover Oregon were in charge and badly mismanaged the project by consistently failing to deliver requirements in a timely manner and failing to staff the project with skilled personnel," the company's statement read.
"We are proud of the work that we have done to enable over 420,000 Oregonians to enroll in health care. We look forward to an investigation that we are confident will completely exonerate Oracle,” the company said.