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Republican Leaders Discuss Vermont Health Connect Changes

WAMC/Pat Bradley

Vermont’s lieutenant governor and the minority leaders of the House and Senate, all Republicans, met at the Statehouse Tuesday to discuss the Shumlin Administration’s move to fire the company that designed and has provided technical support for the state’s health care exchange.

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott emphasized that they were not intent on finger-pointing or placing blame for failures and problems with Vermont Health Connect, the state-run health care exchange. He welcomed the firing of CGI but is concerned that little is known about its replacement, a company called Optum. CGI has missed deadlines since launching in the fall.

Scott wants assurance that the state will not repeat mistakes and there will be clear penalties should problems occur. The lieutenant governor also suggested that the Emergency Board, a panel comprised of the legislative money committee chairs and the governor, hold a special meeting.  “We’re going down the path of possibly spending a lot more money for the IT structure.  I know it’s federal money. I get that. And there may be some state participation. But it’s still taxpayer money. And it still affects the viability of the state in general. So some oversight, some buy-in from legislators is essential at this point. We need to know where we’re heading. Something of this magnitude, $71 million, is a lot of money. The details haven’t been worked out with Optum. I don’t know how much money that’s going to be. Those are details that you could utilize the help of legislators in leadership positions.”

House Minority Leader Don Turner said they have repeatedly asked the administration to hold CGI accountable. He calls the company’s firing a good first step, adding that it should have been done sooner.
“There are some people in the administration I think that should be held accountable as well. We want to see that people that were involved in this process, whether it be all CGI’s fault or there’s some administration, we think that there needs to be a real scrubbing of what happened. We’ve got to understand if it’s management or if it’s an IT problem before we go forward. There were some decisions that have been made that we think need to be looked at. We believe it’s really time to assess the scope of health care initiatives to insure that we continue to use the resources wisely while delivering these services that Vermonters deserve.”

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning was also pleased that CGI was, as he put it, jettisoned by the administration. But he would have preferred a Vermont-based company as a replacement.  “I have no knowledge of Optum. I am somewhat concerned that it is not a Vermont company. I would much have preferred a Vermont company being involved.  I do think we have the expertise in this state, but I guess we are all back at the same point we were when we were trying to start this process. The only other concern that I have is I don’t want us to forget while we are trying to make the exchange work, and we all support that objective, we are still looking at something that has been labeled as a path to single payer. That is the biggest activity we have ever tried to do as a state. It is incredibly important that we maintain as much vigilance as possible.”

Vermont’s Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller noted that a transition of this size is challenging and the Republicans are expressing appropriate concerns.  “We will be coming forward with the Optum plans.  “If there’s a grant enhancement required by CMS, that certainly goes before the E-Board as all grant adjustments do. Legislative participation in that is certainly appropriate.  As to some of the policy things that were raised about an open exchange and direct enrollment, and those sorts of things, those would be conversations for the Legislature when they return.”

In a phone conversation before the meeting , Miller explained to WAMC how Optum had been chosen as the replacement IT provider.  “We looked at all of the firms that were doing work around the country and specifically firms that had gone in as the second contractor. Two companies submitted bids and Optum was the successful bidder. Their history includes work with the federal marketplace, Maryland, Massachusetts, and importantly Hawaii.  Hawaii has nearly identical infrastructure to Vermont. So it was important to us that Optum had experience both doing exchange work and specifically with our configuration

At the same time the IT providers are changing, Vermont Health Connect administration is being reorganized. Lawrence Miller says it has nothing to do with any suppositions of perceived managerial missteps.  “We certainly acknowledge that this is a very challenging management situation.  We are separating and maturing out the operations division from the project division for Vermont Health Connect in order to provide for better management of the operation and the project units. It’s clear that we need to do things differently.”

Vermont Health Connect’s transition from CGI to Optum is expected to take 60 days.

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