Ex-IT manager: Cover Oregon troubles not her fault

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Carolyn Lawson, the Oregon Health Authority's senior IT manager who resigned in the wake of the state's health-insurance exchange fiasco, said she is not to blame for Cover Oregon's botched rollout.
   
Lawson, who resigned in mid-December as chief information officer, said she repeatedly warned her superior Bruce Goldberg, then director of the Oregon Health Authority, that the exchange was in trouble. She said Goldberg took no action.
   
"I raised alarms," Lawson told The Oregonian Friday. "I was pounding the table. We were bleeding money."
   
Goldberg declined to comment on that claim. State officials have previously blamed Lawson for failing to hire a systems integrator as the general manager on the exchange project.
   
But Lawson defended that decision, saying a systems integrator was too expensive. Instead, she said what hindered the technology's development was Cover Oregon's inability to settle on business requirements for the exchange.
   
She also blamed inferior work by Oracle Corp., the state's main technology contractor, for the problems.
   
"I'm disappointed. There are clearly issues with the coding," she said. "They did not do a good and consistent job of delivering the environments."
   
But it was the Oregon Health Authority technology department under Lawson's command that was tasked with building the exchange, which was only a small piece of Oregon's grand vision: a one-stop-shop for people seeking health insurance, food stamps or other government assistance.
   
And it was health authority that controlled federal money meant for the exchange until the spring of 2013.
   
Lawson said she was removed from most daily oversight of the exchange project in November 2012. The move, she said, came after Cover Oregon demanded more independence from Lawson and the Oregon Health Authority.
   
It also came as legislators raised concerns about the slow progress and the costs of the exchange project.
   
Cover Oregon officials previously said they took over the exchange in April 2013, two months before schedule, after the Oregon Health Authority and state Department of Human Services discovered they had misallocated $16 million of the federal grant and were out of funds.
   
Lawson said she was forced to resign after the exchange failed to launch in October and the state had to rely exclusively on paper applications, hiring more than 400 workers to process them manually. She said she was told by a state human resources official to attribute her departure to her mother-in-law's recent death.
   
Goldberg said First Data, a company hired by the state to conduct an internal review, has launched an investigation of what went wrong with the exchange.
   
Lawson said she hired Portland lawyers David Angeli and Ben Souede to represent her after First Data requested an interview.