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Oregon facing pressure, probes over dysfunctional ObamaCare website

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Despite receiving $160 million in taxpayer money, Oregon's ObamaCare website has yet to properly sign up a single person for health care.

There could be consequences. An Oregon legislator has gone to the FBI. Top officials have resigned. The state is investigating. And on Thursday, Republicans in Congress called for a federal probe.

In a letter to the comptroller general of the United States, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to find out where the money went, and if the feds could get it back. Walden told Fox News if Oregon's health care website were a car, it'd be a lemon.

"It's like a car that has no tires, no engine, no steering wheel -- the doors are locked and you can't get in," he said.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. With a strong high-tech community in Portland and a progressive reputation, Oregon was an early, enthusiastic adopter of the Affordable Care Act. The state has been working toward a health care exchange since 2002 and was one of the first states to pass a law creating one.

More than $300 million in federal dollars have come to Oregon from taxpayers all over the country, in the form of grants with names like the "Early Innovator Grant." Oregon ranks third among all states in grants to implement the ACA, despite being near the middle in population.

Still, the website doesn't work. Sixteen states created their own health insurance exchanges, including websites where residents can go to shop for health insurance. The federal government runs the exchange for the remaining states at HealthCare.gov.

Oregon is still enrolling residents in health care plans, but using a disjointed process with parts of the website that work. Over 100,000 Oregonians have enrolled, the state claims, including 35,247 in private plans,

"While we are making progress on the website, we will continue to use the hybrid process until we have a fully functioning website," Ariane Holm, a spokeswoman for Cover Oregon, said in a statement. Cover Oregon refused an interview request.

At a press conference on Jan. 30, Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said 25 percent more Oregonians now have health insurance.

"It's a remarkable story, and it's a story worth telling," he said, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

State Republicans dispute those numbers, however, arguing tens of thousands of enrollees were in the state's Medicaid plan before Oct. 1, when the website was scheduled to be operational. The state says they don't know how many Cover Oregon enrollees didn't have health insurance before Oct. 1.

Kitzhaber has ordered a state review of Cover Oregon to determine what went wrong.

The state was one of the first nine states to create an exchange by law in 2011, and received national attention with a $10 million ad campaign including the folksy "Live Long in Oregon."

But the ad campaign masked problems from the start, said Patrick Sheehan, a former Oregon state legislator who sat on the state's Legislative Audit, Information Management and Technology Committee. The state didn't hire the right people, were too ambitious trying to build a national model and didn't use proven, existing software, he said.

"The website was where everyone was supposed to go to compare plans, to bring costs down," he said.

Sheehan said he went to the FBI in 2012 and passed on information he received that state officials lied to the feds about the website's progress in order to keep the grant money flowing. The FBI, citing Department of Justice protocol, refused to comment.

The failure is surprising because there was oversight built into the system. There were managers at Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority, and experts at the Oregon Department of Administrative Services and the state's Legislative Fiscal Office. The state hired a Virginia company to provide additional oversight. There were also federal officials supposedly looking on.

Sheehan said Carolyn Lawson, who oversaw much of the development of the health insurance exchange and resigned in December, controlled the flow of information and suppressed those who raised red flags. Lawson could not be reached for comment.