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State Legislator Proposes Shutting Down Cover Oregon

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A Republican state lawmaker who's running for governor said Friday that he plans to introduce legislation to shut down Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange.

Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point said he'll propose that Oregon hand over its exchange to the federal government, which runs the operation for 36 other states, but acknowledged that he's unlikely to get far in the Democratic Legislature.

The exchange, known as Cover Oregon, has struggled with technical glitches, and its online enrollment system still hasn't launched. Hundreds of workers have manually processed more than 50,000 applications, but the state has little to show for the tens of millions of dollars spent on technology.

Richardson's announcement came from his gubernatorial campaign. He's running for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber in the November election.

"What really needs to happen is this needs to be treated as if it were a business and not just a failed government project," Richardson said. "If this were a business, and you had a startup that's in this situation, you'd cut your losses and shut it down."

The federal government experienced its own high-profile website failures when its exchange launched in October, but the site has made significant strides and more than 1 million people have been able to use it to sign up for private health coverage.

Now that the federal exchange is working, Oregon's website is redundant, Richardson said. He's also skeptical that Cover Oregon will be able to enroll enough people to be financially viable. The exchange earns a fee for each person who's enrolled in a Cover Oregon plan and is supposed to be self-sufficient by next year.

A spokesman for governor's office referred questions to Kitzhaber's campaign, which had no immediate comment.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 3 for a five-week session.

Bruce Goldberg, interim director of Cover Oregon, said this week that the state will consider partnering with other states or the federal government if its technology still isn't working after the open enrollment period ends in March.

In Maryland, which has also struggled with its exchange technology, a Democratic lawmaker this week asked the state's health secretary to assess the viability of switching to the federal exchange while the state system is repaired.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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