Man with cancer still waiting on Cover Oregon

CANBY, Ore. -- Days into the new year, a time when federally mandated health care coverage is a requirement, thousands of Oregonians are still waiting to get enrolled in Oregon's online health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon.

Oregon is a state that's had one of the worst rollouts in the country. It has had to resort to processing applications by hand.

Now, concerns are mounting that some of the most vulnerable Oregonians are facing breaks in health coverage - Oregonians like David Mahler.

Mahler is a longtime chef who says he dropped out of college in Berkley to pursue his culinary dreams, which later took him to Costa Rica and recently as a chef in Silverton. His life's work got put on the back burner in August when he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow - the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

"I got the results and I went 'Oh my God, I've got cancer," Mahler said.

To monitor the leukemia, Mahler said he needed frequent blood work to check his white blood cell count.

He also has a heart condition, atrial fibrillation, which means he has an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body.

But soon after the diagnosis, he lost his job. And if that wasn't hard enough, three months later, he was dropped from his insurance company.

"The insurance company comes to me and says we're rescinding your insurance because there's a pre-existing condition you didn't tell us about," he said.

Mahler couldn't afford to be uninsured. But finding another insurance provider on such short notice and, with a preexisting condition, he said made it virtually impossible to get coverage anywhere except Cover Oregon. In November, with the help of an insurance agent, he signed up.

"I was pretty much relying on Cover Oregon to bail me out of this situation," Mahler said.

But it hasn't bailed him out. Not yet. His insurance agent broke the news Thursday: he's not insured for the month of January.

"It was scary," Mahler said. "I thought, all of a sudden, I am out here on a limb, on a lifeboat and there's no lifeline anymore. There's no connection to anything. And that was really a scary experience."

Why the delay? Mahler has no clue.

The On Your Side Investigators went back to Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox to find out. Does Cover Oregon have problems with delays?

"I would say that the vast majority of applications we get are processed seamlessly and that we focus really hard on those cases that take a little more work," Cox said.

Cox didn't have numbers on how many people might be left without coverage because of the processing backlog. Unlike an online application, there's no quick fix. Forms have to be hand-corrected, then faxed or mailed. And it doesn't take much for your application to be derailed. It can be something as simple as a typo or a space left blank that can put the whole process on hold. In other cases, it's a matter of determining eligibility for state assistance that can prove difficult.

"You do get cases where sometimes an eligibility determination is a little bit harder to make, it's a complicated household situation and sometimes those take a little more time," Cox said.

That said, Cox said Cover Oregon's developed a new team of people they refer to as their "SWAT team" to work on processing enrollments with the most immediate medical needs. KATU found they do prioritize cases for those people with urgent medical needs or who are pregnant.

"We will work with them through their issues and try to get any issues resolved," Cox said.

For people like Mahler, when every day counts, the delays can be agonizing: "I felt letdown," he said. "I felt - wait a second, I did everything I was supposed to do. This isn't the way it's supposed to work."

For now, he says he's relying on the charity of a hospital in Silverton that's giving him discounts on his medical bills.

If you're application is still being processed and you have questions, Cox says to call 1-855-COVER-OR.

Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: