On Monday, the Daily Caller reported that in order to do business with Cover Oregon, so-called “community partners” must sign a far-reaching agreement that essentially forbids them from criticizing the state’s Obamacare exchange.
Legal expert Bruce McCain told talk show host Lars Larson that organizations could lose all of their grant money if state officials determine they disagree with the troubled exchange.
McCain went so far as to compare it to the IRS targeting conservative groups, saying it amounts to “the weight and full effect of the government using its power of the purse to coerce private entities.”
“It’s a chilling effect on speech,” he added.
Larson, the Daily Caller said, obtained a copy of the document, known as the “Cover Oregon Community Partner Confidentiality Agreement” and verified it with state officials.
According to the document, organizations are banned from saying anything considered “false, misleading, deceptive, libelous, defamatory or obscene.”
So-called “community partners,” the Daily Caller explained, are part of an outreach program that targets “hard-to-reach, non-English speaking, geographically isolated, and underserved populations.”
So far, Sarah Hurtubise said, the Oregon exchanged has successfully signed up 44 people since Oct. 1, at a cost of over $300 million dollars. According to the agreement, partners may lose their funding if they acknowledge the exchange’s failures.
“If state health officials believe a community partner has violated the agreement, Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority are allowed to terminate the grant agreement entirely, at their ‘sole discretion,’” Hurtubise added.
McCain said that after three decades of service to the state, he has never seen anything like this.
The document was originally created in October, with the language — described by McCain as a “political gag order” — added later. Organizations that had originally signed on had no choice but to agree.
“This is basically a reaction, in my opinion, to the bad press that Cover Oregon’s been getting,” McCain added.
Cover Oregon interim director Bruce Goldberg said he became aware of the language after the Daily Caller’s report and pledged to change the agreement.
Cover Oregon is now “doing a complete review of all contracts with current partners (community partner, agents, carriers, etc.) and taking steps to remedy the language,” spokeswoman Ariane Holm said.
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