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Federal Audit Of Health Exchange Delivers Old Data

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Vermont Health Connect
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The healthcare exchange in Vermont is facing a new round of criticism. A new federal audit assessing the first six months of operations of Vermont Health Connect found it failed to meet a series of federal requirements designed to ensure that people who sought insurance through the system were qualified to receive it.  Administrators of the beleaguered system say significant progress has been made in the intervening two years and critics are curious why the federal audit doesn’t provide more current information.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services audit issued Wednesday assessed Vermont Health Connect between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. It found nine problem areas that have been previously documented. Examples include the exchange’s past inability to process changes and failure to properly verify Social Security numbers or family income.

Vermont Department of Health Access Spokesman Sean Sheehan concurs with much of the audit but notes that most of the findings are old news.   “There’s been progress and I think the difference between the time that this report covers and today is like night and day.  We’re in the business now of providing health insurance, managing the health insurance,  of about 200,000 Vermonters.  And we recognize that there’s always going to be some problems, always going to be some issues, always going to be some room for improvement.  And looking at this audit it’s a good chance to see how far we’ve come.  It’s a night and day difference of where we were and where we are now while still not resting until we have it where it needs to be to provide the best service as possible for those 200,000 Vermonters.”

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom President Darcie Johnston is a frequent critic of the state exchange.  She found no surprises in the audit.  “Our concerns back when Vermont Health Connect opened we did multiple press releases calling on the Administration to be transparent, calling for an independent assessment.  Something that looks like now is going to happen. Because we knew these things were happening.  So it confirms what we were saying but it doesn’t address and it doesn’t appear to have any teeth to address the lack of transparency and compliance by the Administration.  And we don’t know, we really don’t know, what if any other guidelines the Vermont Health Connect is not in compliance with today.”

Sheehan notes that the state contracts with a firm that does regular independent reviews and provides monthly reports on exchange operations.  He doubts the federal audit will be very useful.  “This audit being so old and really covering a lot of the same information that past audits have covered probably isn’t as useful as some of the other studies or audits that have been done.  I think it’s important also to note that they also did the federal exchange and most of the other states as well.  And they found all the states and the federal government met very similar challenges.”

Johnston, meanwhile,  wonders how the federal audit can be relevant two years beyond the review dates. “This audit should have come a long ago.  It’s nice to have it now.  But really if Health and Human Services was really that interested in protecting the welfare of Americans in this new risky venture why is this coming two years plus after the fact? I mean really. That’s pretty bad.”

Auditors from the federal Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s office were unavailable for comment on Thursday.  
Vermont’s audit was one of seven done of the 15 states that operate their own health care exchanges.

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