Cover Oregon offers staff retention bonuses

SALEM, Ore. — Cover Oregon has offered retention bonuses to employees who stick around through a tumultuous time for the struggling health insurance exchange.

The bonuses, which could total up to $650,000, are necessary to avoid losing staff with expertise in key technology and health-policy issues, Cover Oregon’s executive director Clyde Hamstreet said in a letter to the board of directors.

The organization has been struggling from the loss of 27 staff members since April to layoffs and voluntary departures.

“Many of the employees who voluntarily left Cover Oregon had key skills that are not easily to replace both in IT and in health care laws and regulations,” Hamstreet wrote. “We cannot afford to keep losing valuable employees if we are to complete the work load for the remainder of 2014 and the IT transition project.”

Most of Cover Oregon’s 163 employees can earn two weeks of pay if they stay through March 15, when the organization expects to wrap up its next enrollment push that ends a month earlier. About three dozen employees deemed essential qualify for larger bonuses: 21 can earn one month of pay, 15 can get two months of pay and two people are eligible for three months.

Cover Oregon’s much-touted website never fully launched to the general public, requiring workers to carry much of the weight for enrolling people in private health insurance and the state Medicaid program.

The state has decided to give up running its own website and is in the process of building the technical infrastructure to transition to a website run by the federal government. Workers are also needed to help customers who have a change in circumstances — like a new address, birth of a child or a new job — and to process commissions for 1,200 insurance agents, said Ariane Holm, a Cover Oregon spokeswoman.

Funding for the bonuses will come from Cover Oregon’s existing budget, Holm said.

The bonuses were first reported by The Oregonian.

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