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Vermont Republicans Want Federal Investigation Into Health Care Reform Efforts

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Republican leaders in the Vermont legislature are asking for a federal investigation of the state's spending on its health care exchange and reforms, with a particular focus on a contract with embattled health economist Jonathan Gruber.

The Vermont House and Senate minority leaders are requesting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General investigate all state spending and use of federal money on Vermont Health Connect since its inception.

House Minority Leader Don Turner says they have long questioned the state’s health care reform agenda. With the state auditor issuing a reporton Monday that enhances those concerns, Turner says it was an appropriate time to request a federal probe.   “There are some issues that are very concerning about procedure, bidding and paying of invoices that are questionable. So we felt that that was the perfect time now that an independent, essentially an independent agency - the auditor’s office, has substantiated our concern that we now go to the federal Inspector General and ask them to look at all federal dollars that came into Vermont. I’m not saying there’s anything fraudulent. But we want to make sure and we want it looked at by somebody that’s not in the Shumlin administration or the majority of the Legislature.”

The Republican call for an investigation came the day after Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer released a 54-page memo reviewing the state’s handling and oversight of its contract with MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber.  Auditor Hoffer found evidence that Gruber overstated and overcharged hours. He is extremely critical of Health Care Reform Director Robin Lunge and Deputy Director Michael Costa.
 Despite almost daily contact with the consultant, Hoffer says questionable invoices were approved.   “Robin and Michael were well aware of the actual work being performed. There’s no question about it. He billed for a thousand hours for a research assistant for a ten week period. Since we now know it was one person,  that individual would have had to work fourteen hours a day every single day. That should have raised a flag for them and it didn’t. As for sanctions, I don’t know that that would serve any purpose, but that’s not  my call.”

Health Care Reform Director Robin Lunge was in a committee meeting Wednesday afternoon and was unavailable for comment.

Whether it’s disciplinary or other punitive action, Turner says those involved must be held accountable. But he adds that the governor is ultimately responsible.

Others are harsher.

Long-time critic of the state health care exchange, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom Founder and President Darcie Johnston says heads must roll in the wake of the latest revelations.   “Robin Lunge, Michael Costa, and then Lawrence Miller who renegotiated the contract with Gruber were not acting in good faith and on behalf of Vermonters in protecting the public purse. For those reasons we think all three of them should resign. I really think that in a state that’s got a $113 or, I don’t know,  $120 million dollar budget gap if we don’t start terminating the state workers who abuse the public purse, we’re not going to get on good financial ground.”

The auditor’s findings have been forwarded to the state attorney general’s office for further investigation.

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