Oregon insurance companies urge lawmakers to act quickly on dissolving Cover Oregon

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SALEM, Oregon — Oregon health insurers on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to act quickly in dissolving Cover Oregon and transferring its authority to other state agencies.

Insurance companies need certainty as they plan their 2016 insurance rates, which must be filed with the state in the spring, lobbyists for several companies told a legislative committee formed to oversee the potential unwinding of the health insurance exchange.

"The timeliness and smoothness of this transition is critical," said Jessica Adamson, a lobbyist for Providence Health & Services.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders have backed a plan to transfer Cover Oregon's powers to the state Department of Consumer and Business Services. The move follows Cover Oregon's failure to launch a working website that would allow people to enroll in health insurance under the new federal health care law.

The Consumer and Business Services Department is well-positioned to take on the task and could save money by combining technology, human resources and accounting services, agency director Patrick Allen told lawmakers.

The insurance company officials told lawmakers they should require separation between Cover Oregon and the agency's Insurance Division, which regulates insurance companies and must approve their premiums.

"We think it's very important to do that in the bill so we don't have the appearance of the regulator in business with the regulated," said Tom Holt, a lobbyist for Cambia Health Solutions, the parent company for insurers Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield and Bridgespan.

They also urged lawmakers to be careful not to jeopardize Oregon's arrangement with the federal government, which allows the state to retain control over insurance regulation but use federal technology.

If Oregon cedes all control to Washington — losing its status as a state-based exchange — insurers worry that consumers might lose subsidies due to a pending U.S. Supreme Court case.

A legislative lawyer said dissolving Cover Oregon would not affect the ongoing litigation between the state and Oracle Inc., which have sued each other over Cover Oregon's failure.

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