by Harold Callahan
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
This week, Hawaii pulled the plug on its state-created Obamacare exchange. Gov. David Ige (D) declared that the Hawaii Health Connector has been “unable to generate sufficient revenues to sustain operations.” The decision to kill the exchange will cost taxpayers $200 million, a relative bargain compared to the political-inspired fiasco that happened with the Oregon version of the Obamacare exchange — Cover Oregon.
The similarities between Hawaii and Oregon’s experiment with their health care exchanges is startling. Like their island counterpart, Oregon was one of the first states to jump on the ObamaCare bandwagon. Hawaii’s Democrat Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Oregon’s John Kitzhaber were champions of government-run health care and wanted to be the tip of the spear for socialized medicine in America.
Both states received millions of taxpayer dollars from the federal government and supplemented their own funds to build their exchange. In both states, supporters of Obamacare praised their efforts despite the problems that riddled both exchanges. Ironically, Abercrombie and Kitzhaber were ultimately driven from office — one by voters and one by scandal. But to Hawaii’s credit, exchange proponents rode the wave of difficulties and managed to sign up 8,500 in the first year. Oregon’s political class got cold feet and rather than work through the technical issues and challenges, they just scuttled the whole thing for pure political reasons — costing taxpayers over $300 million.
It sounds like a plot from Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but when Cover Oregon failed to sign up a single person after opening up to large fanfare and a hippie-like television commercial blitz, then Gov. Kitzhaber appointed his political advisor Patricia McCaig to oversee the exchange. McCaig had no experience in either health care or computer technology, but she could sure read a poll. The self-proclaimed “Princess of Darkness,” fearing the political nightmare of a failed exchange and the accusations of incompetence could cost her client re-election, decided to turn off the lights on Cover Oregon. McCaig then directed the state to sue Oracle, the contractor hired to facilitate the exchange, in an effort to shift the blame.
Whistleblowers are now coming forward with evidence that with some more time and testing, the exchange would have worked but not necessarily on the political timetable that McCaig demanded. Last February, Oracle fought back by filing a counter suit against McCaig and her political team. The company notes that Oregon law strictly prohibits political activity be separated from governmental decision. It wasn’t.
It should come as little surprise to find that Kitzhaber and his team flaunted the law. He has since been driven from office for a scandal involving his girlfriend and state contracts to environmental groups. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is scouring the state looking for evidence of corruption and now Congress is on the case examining the role Kitzhaber’s political cronies had in costing taxpayers over a quarter of a billion dollars.
The Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (D-Utah) has asked Oregon to turn over documents related to Cover Oregon. His demands come on the heels of news that officials in the Kitzhaber administration sought to destroy emails relating to the other scandal.
Congress has an obligation to defend the taxpayers. If $300 million went missing because the “Princess of Darkness” felt it would be better for her client, we need to know about it. In fact, restitution to the taxpayers might be a good place to start.