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3/6/2014
09:21 AM
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Oracle: Villain Or Scapegoat In Oregon Insurance Exchange Mess?

Even as Oregon works to exit a troubled IT services contract with Oracle, a longtime critic of the state's health insurance exchange project says the blame belongs elsewhere.

Cover Oregon still manually processes insurance applications. (Source: Cover Oregon.)
Cover Oregon still manually processes insurance applications. (Source: Cover Oregon.)

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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3/6/2014 | 10:01:41 AM
Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
Sheehan's perspective is interesting, but does it seem credible to you that Oracle could be completely blameless in this mess? I can imagine that poor direction from state project managers might have gotten the project off on the wrong foot and the "very ambitious business model" Sheehan talks about might have somehow led to poor decisions. So the project stumbled, but why has it still failed to recover all these months later?
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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3/6/2014 | 10:11:17 AM
Re: Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
BTW, shortly after I filed this story, I did receive a brief note from Aaron Karjala, CIO of Cover Oregon, who said, "We are still actively partnered with Oracle to continue delivery of the exchange technology. We have begun a plan for an orderly transition to the next phase of the project, and are actively working on the long range plan for Cover Oregon technology."

The question is whether Oracle will be part of that "next phase," or how big a part.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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3/6/2014 | 10:18:27 AM
Re: Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
There is plenty of blame to go around to plenty of people and organizations, including Oracle. While it's easy to point fingers months later, from hundreds of miles away, it's infuriating to once again see taxpayers' money flung around with abandon and seemingly little oversight until it's way too late. As we've seen in many other cases of failed government implementations, it appears the goalposts kept moving. Both the implementer -- in this case Oracle -- and the executive overseeing the solution -- in this case Oregon's CIO -- should have been firmer in adhering to a strict definition of what the site would and would not do, at least in its first iteration. Adding features throughout the process only makes it impossible to succeed within budget and deadline. 

It makes no sense nowadays to ignore the availability of open source, commercial applications that get you at least halfway to your goal. Why do states or other government entities continue trying to reinvent the wheel? It's more expensive, takes way more time to create, and costs more to support. Using existing software, you save time and money, and also have add-on options, a wider talent pool, and lower development/support costs. 

If the Oregon CIO was, indeed, seeking an Oracle job that should surely go against existing ethics laws in the state. If not, I'd recommend Oregon add a law preventing executives from working for a company they were able to hire within a year (or longer) of leaving their government position. They could, perhaps, have workarounds but would have to prove they didn't talk jobs until long after the contract was signed, for example.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
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3/6/2014 | 10:21:57 AM
First IBM, Now Oracle
Seems like insurance exchange sites are fraught with problems. Let's not forget Minnesota's MNsure site, which tripped up IBM earlier this year. There, too, there's question as to whether the problem lies with the vendors or the state-agency managers guiding the project.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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3/6/2014 | 12:02:52 PM
Carolyn Lawson interview
Carolyn Lawson did give an interview to the Oregonian defending herself professionally.

Cover Oregon: Carolyn Lawson, departed IT director, says she's been unfairly scapegoated http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2014/02/cover_oregon_carolyn_lawson_de_1.html
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
3/6/2014 | 12:16:13 PM
Re: First IBM, Now Oracle
With government and technology, blame is very rarely "either/or." Most of the time blame is spread around to all involved parties. Maybe not evenly spread, but everyone involved is accountable for success or failure.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
3/6/2014 | 12:18:03 PM
Re: Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
Rarely are folks that blunt and forthcoming about their next job. In my experience, individuals make choices that would help lead to a future opportunity rather than buying a job by granting a contract.

Whether or not the CIO was hoping for a position in Oracle, it's easy to connect the dots and find a conclusion in hindsight, even if it's not the right conclusion. Whether or not she was, every company would benefit from non-hire clauses in contracts just to remove any possibility of that conflict of interest.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:38:21 PM
Siding with Uncle Sam
As much trouble as the federal health care exchange experienced, it's growing evident that the majority of states that participated in the federal exchange are probably better off than states like Oregon and Maryland that went their own way and now have big holes to fix -- and not the resources Uncle Sam had.  Oregon's tale also seems to be a case where internal politics and inadequate management (reflected in the decision not to reuse existing applications) would make it hard for any vendor to succeed.

 
Mr. Gigabob
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Mr. Gigabob,
User Rank: Strategist
3/6/2014 | 6:48:58 PM
Re: Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
That both Oregon's ineffective management under Carolyn Lawson and Oracle - her chosen partner - share blame for this debacle is not for debate.  Assinging singular blame to either party in a marriage of this intimacy is about beating a dead horse.  Oregon sought to establish a new standard and hired what it thought were competent mangers to execute a project they deisgned to dwarf the scale of any previous "Large IT" effort - all of which had previously been challenged to deliver according to plan.  Oregon made several key mistakes - obviously Lawson was the biggest - but working on their own to create not just an insurance applicaton site - but a complicated financial tool designed to navigate the arcane paths of healthcare billing systems, tax policy and often contrasting user needs - all within a very contrained period of time was a major bridge too far.  

IMO the real issue is why major Federal programs like this are even given an option at the state level to proceed on their own - without clear guidelines and milestones to synchronize efforts and make sure systems are interoperable instead of having 50 separate efforts that can vary so widely in scope.
Mr. Gigabob
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Mr. Gigabob,
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3/7/2014 | 11:02:14 AM
Re: Oracle blameless in Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco?
Sheehan's post and focus joins several other from the Repulican side of the aisle that were viewed at the time through the polarizing lense of National Health Care Politics.  If we accept Rep Sheehans perspective it also is a key indication of why Oracle has a responsibility for the mess at Cover Oregon. 

In the actual bidding process there were three vendors - IBM, Oracle and a smaller third party.  After clarification on the bid neither IBM nor the third party felt qualified to execute, and dropped out.  This augurs strongly against the proposition that readily avaialble OTS SW, either opensource, commercial or otherwise could have been used to build CoverOregon.  Oracle moved in, bringing Oracle products and developers and had no plans to leverage open source tools to shorten a time and materials contract or reduce lucrative licensing contracts later.  

Calls by Sheehan to shelve Oracle and other Republicans to heed the audit reports showing the project missing key milestones a year earlier were not seen as constructive criticism by engaged lawmakers seeking the best outcome for Oregon Citizens - but as Republican Obamacare attacks.  I had reservations about this project from the beginning and was familiar with managers reputations inside Oregon IT.  When contacted to interview for a Project Management Role for this effort, I ran for the hills.  In 2011.  It was clear to me at the time that with Federal money behind it, Oregon IT directors driving it and Oracle that this was a Titanic Project - with similar outcome.
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