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Governor Temporarily Pulls Plug On Troubled Health Care Exchange

Vermont’s online connection to its health care exchange has been temporarily disconnected. The governor pulled the plug Monday night to fix persistent problems.

The web portal Vermont Health Connect has been plagued with problems since it went live last fall as the state implemented its health care exchange. Tuesday morning, Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, announced that the website had been shut down in order to complete operational, technical, performance and security improvements prior to the November 15th open enrollment.

Human Services Secretary Dr. Harry Chen says it’s currently a low usage time for the website.  “So it’s a good time in terms of traffic on our website and it’s really important to the governor and to me we’re prepared on November 15th for the re-enrollment period. So we made the decision to close down the website so that we could make improvements in usability, in terms of functionality, in terms of security to really meet that deadline of November 15th.”

Vermont Lieutenant Governor Republican Phil Scott said he learned that Vermont Health Connect was going dark about 20 minutes before the governor’s announcement. He believes it’s time to assess all options, including the possibility of joining the federal exchange.  “We’re a small state.  620,000 people. A fraction of those on the exchange. The federal exchange is working. Maybe that’s what we should do. And I would go further than that. I feel because of our small population that we should be forming a bi-state or tri-state partnership to reduce the cost to the consumers.”

House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner says corrective action on the portal is long overdue.  “I know I have a number of my constituents that are struggling with already paid for products through the Vermont Health  Exchange and not receiving any benefit. There are a number of Vermonters that are in that situation. So I think the governor is probably feeling some political pressure as a result of his administration’s poor management.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling says it was appropriate for the governor to put the website down to fix it.  “We’re looking for a site that provides Vermonters with the functionality they need to be able to go on, log in, enroll and make sure their insurance coverage is what they need. I think everyone recognizes that there have been problems with Vermont Health Connect. I think we need to do whatever we can to make sure we get the site up and running and give Vermonters the functionality that they need when it comes to their health insurance exchange.”

The governor also announced a reorganization of the Department of Vermont Health Access by removing its oversight of Vermont Health Connect. Secretary Chen emphasized the changes are not disciplinary.  “Part of what we’ve done is implemented an incident command structure model. Which is ideally suited to a multi-agency, multi-partner response.  We’ve been very successful at the Health Department using it. It was my decision to both put that in place but also to have a different person at the top of that management structure.”

Under the new management structure, Governor Shumlin’s senior advisor Lawrence Miller is taking over operational leadership of Vermont Health Connect. Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson will run the department’s other programs.

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