Embattled head of Cover Oregon taking leave

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 2, 2013 at 7:11 pm •  Published: December 2, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The embattled director of Oregon's problem-plagued health insurance exchange said Monday that he'll be taking a leave of absence for medical reasons.

The board of Cover Oregon approved up to 12 weeks of medical leave for Rocky King, who came under fire when the online enrollment system wasn't ready to launch on schedule in October. Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg will immediately serve as Cover Oregon's interim director, and a search committee was formed to find a longer-term replacement.

Technical problems with Oregon's online health insurance exchange have been an embarrassment to the state and forced people to apply using paper applications. The state has scrambled to hire or reassign nearly 500 people to process applications by hand.

The announcement about King's medical leave came right before Cover Oregon's board went into executive session to discuss his job performance. The board had the executive director on notice, demanding to know when the website will work and how Cover Oregon will get people enrolled by the end of the year.

King told reporters he had struggled with his health for several years and was planning to take some medical leave for a while, though he did not pick the date until last week.

"It's time for me to focus on my health for a little bit," he said. He did not describe what his medical condition entailed. He also said he has not resigned, though his return to Cover Oregon was dependent on his health.

"No one has talked about stepping down," King said. "As far as I know, everybody's been supportive of me."

But for the third time in the past few months, the board voted that King was not in compliance, this time when it comes to the exchange's launch date, the plan to enroll the maximum number of Oregonians, and the plan to get the exchange functional.

King has said Oregon set out to build an unusually complex exchange and didn't have enough time to do adequate testing. Experts warned for months that Oregon was trying to do too much and risked missing the deadline to launch, but Cover Oregon officials refused to substantially dial back their plans until it was too late.

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