Vermont Health Connect shakes up practices, adds personnel

The head of Vermont’s health care reform effort says he does not believe one of the basic functions of the state’s online health care exchange will be fixed in time for the open enrollment period for insurance this fall.

Thousands of people are unable to fix mistakes or change their coverage online through Vermont Health Connect, and Lawrence Miller, the head of health care reform, says the state needs to put contingencies in place.

Secretary Lawrence Miller testifies in front of the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

Secretary Lawrence Miller testifies in front of the House Appropriations Committee in December. File photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

The state will continue to employ customer service representatives who will make the changes manually, instead of trying to connect the disparate IT systems required to automate changes, he told lawmakers at a legislative hearing Wednesday.

Miller said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ requirement for states to automate change functions has “basic problems” and isn’t standard practice in the health insurance industry.

After testifying, Miller clarified that the state plans to complete the work that will allow users to make changes online, but he’s not sure that can happen before open enrollment starts Nov. 15.

“If we don’t have a good line of sight on when it might be done, then when does the contingency plan become the operating plan?” Miller said.

Miller did not have a good sense of what it might cost or how much manpower it would take to continue developing the change function and operate a contingency plan simultaneously, but he reiterated that “we definitely want to continue to pursue [automated changes].”

Miller said he expects the state will use the entire $171 million federal earmark for Vermont Health Connect. The most recent number from the state pegged spending at $72 million in June. Miller did not have an updated price tag for Vermont Health Connect.

New Hampshire, which elected to use the federal healthcare.gov website, has spent about $8 million to implement the Affordable Care Act.

The state recently hired OptumInsights, a subsidiary of health insurance and IT giant United Healthcare, to review current practices and help erase the mounting backlog of changes that need to be made.

The $5.7 million contract asks the contractor to eliminate the backlog by Aug. 1, a deadline Miller said would likely be missed – in part because new people continue to trickle in to the system with a similar error rate to those who signed up for insurance through the exchange last year and earlier this year.

Optum has more than 100 people working in an overflow call center and was instrumental in developing a process to expedite changes that could hinder someone’s access to coverage. The contract also charges Optum with reviewing the work of other contractors, such as CGI, Exeter and Maximus, which operates the main call center.

Vermont Health Connect recently hired an operations manager, David Martini, who previously worked for the Department of Financial Regulation, Miller said.

Martini will report directly to Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, who was absent from Wednesday’s hearing. Larson was participating in a regularly scheduled review of Vermont Health Connect with CMS officials, Miller said.

Martini has a “strong operations” background, and will allow Lindsey Tucker, deputy commissioner in charge of Vermont Health Connect, to focus on the programmatic and policy side of the exchange, he said.

To this point, Tucker had been “stuck trying to do both,” he added.

Miller rejected the notion that Vermont Health Connect needs a change in leadership, and said if he thought that was the case he would raise those concerns with Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Any shake-up in personnel at the commissioner or deputy commissioner level would be done by the governor, he said.

Morgan True

Comments

  1. Darcie Johnston :

    Stop! Stop spending money! Stop hiring people to try to fix a system that cannot be fixed! Let VTers buy health insurance from whoever they want to buy insurance from. This experiment is OVER!

  2. Jim christiansen :

    Another missed deadline?

    Shocked I tell you, shocked!

  3. Dave Bellini :

    This is a comedy. This was collapsing under Larson, so the state brings over Miller to baby sit. Now they’re in worse shape and they keep hiring more personnel and spending more tax money. IT DOESN’T WORK !! YOU FAILED !! Again and again!! You guys are incompetent.

  4. Glenn Thompson :

    This fiasco is becoming more comical by the minute!

  5. Craig Powers :

    Admit your failure and move on. Stop wasting time and money. I hope Vermonters identify the legislators who voted to put us into this mess and vote them out of office. Rep. Mike Fisher is definitely one legislator who needs to be voted out.

  6. Keith Stern :

    And the saddest part? Many Vermonters will vote for the same incompetent leadership that has repeatedly failed us. How pathetic is it that the architect of the ACA which is becoming increasing obvious that it is a failure, is coming to Vermont to architect a single payer that is neither affordable nor workable?

  7. Patricia Crocker :

    Give up on this mess! Stop throwing more of our taxpayer money at the problem. One quick easy solution, open up the VT exchange to out of state exchanges or to the Federal exchange. Then let’s get to work and get these clowns out of office in November so it can be fixed once and for all.

  8. Martha Roberts :

    We keep doing the same things that don’t work with the same people who can’t make them work, throwing more money away. In private business this would not be tolerated. If you have people managing the system (Mark Larson) who can’t get it to work, or software developers who can’t make their software work, fire them, and hire someone who can make the system work. Look around the country at the states (bigger) who have made their systems work with far less money and far less trouble and do what they have done.

    I support the ACA and single payer, but with the horrible mess we have now, there is no way that we can manage a single payer system. Fire all the incompetents. Get people who know what they are doing. The taxpayers are being penalized for the mistakes of these incompetents (and political cronies, maybe?).

    • Darryl Smith :

      Heads should roll starting with Shumlin, of course that’ll never happen with Vermont’s starry-eyed voters.

  9. jerry :

    So Vermont will spend AT LEAST 20 times what New Hampshire has? Let’s see, that is over $160 million that could have helped Vermonters. Oh, and the $6 million that changing the name of a hospital will cost (that the governor thinks is a great idea?) could have helped people out too.
    Shouldn’t give anyone a warm feeling that this boondoogle will be affordable to anyone.

  10. Kathy Callaghan :

    “…but with the horrible mess we have now, there is no way that we can manage a single payer system.”

    Exactly. And now you know what the problem is.

    The state will never be able to manage a single payer system. Ever. It’s too big and they are too incompetent. Worse yet, they will not admit to their incompetence, or hire (NOT appoint) qualified health care experts who might have a ghost of a chance of making it work.

    Look how long it took Shumlin to bring in Larry Miller, the only person with any business experience at all.

    As long as Peter Shumlin is Governor, and there is a Democratic majority in both houses who will not hold him accountable for anything, this is what Vermonters can look forward to.

    There is no balance in the legislature to offset this inexorable march to single payer, no matter what the cost or what the level of competence.

    Remember that when you vote this fall.

  11. Dan Carver :

    So for $ 8 million, as our sister state NH has shown, this headache could be behind us. We’ve spent 9 times that amount–and committed to an additional factor of 12—for a non-functional boondoggle.

    Yet, the “we’re smarter than everyone else” crowd in Montpelier, decided to show us they could waste money faster than everyone else–outside of Washington.

    Is this a local example of pedaling influence – get elected; reward your friends with an “all-you-can-bill” relationship at the tax payer trough? (And until recently, no questions asked. And, if any asks, tell them it’s a nothing-burger.) What a waste!

  12. The problem with the development and execution of health care reform in Vermont is that it’s based on ideology as opposed to philosophy.

    A passage from “The Price of Loyalty” a book recounting the experience of Paul O’Neill, Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush for two years and subsequently fired by him because he wouldn’t go along with massive tax cuts and the war in Iraq fits the mindset on health care reform in Vermont.

    Despite all of the risks and potential adverse consequences associated with tax cuts in 2001, against the counsel of Paul O’Neill, the Bush administration went ahead with the massive tax cuts. O’Neill attributed the decision to ideology versus philosophy.

    O’Neill said: “ I think an ideology comes out of feelings and it tends to be non-thinking. A philosophy, on the other hand, can have a structured thought base. One would hope that a philosophy, which is always a work in progress, is influenced by facts. So there is a constant interplay between…. what do I think and why do it think it.”

    “Now, if you gather more facts and have more experience, especially with things that have gone wrong-then you reshape your philosophy, because the facts tell you you’ve got to”

    Think about the wisdom of O’Neill’s words and the consequences of not following them and you have Vermont’s experience with health care reform.

    Starting with the Hsaio study, the results of which were missed used and subsequent decisions points where the Governor and legislature failed to ask: “what do I think and why do it think it?”

    If Governor Shumlin and the legislature where motivated by philosophy as opposed to ideology in reforming health care, we probably wouldn’t have the mess we have today.

  13. Kathy Callaghan :

    “If Governor Shumlin and the legislature where motivated by philosophy as opposed to ideology in reforming health care, we probably wouldn’t have the mess we have today”

    I agree, Peter, except we need to change the word “philosophy” to “reality” and only then will anything work.

  14. Matt Taylor :

    Has Vermont Health Connect even met ONE deadline that has been set?

    It seems as if the Shumlin administration has gotten so used to failure that its the new norm for Vermont Health Connect.

    Shumlin can’t admit pull the plug because he would have to admit that he was wrong and wasted almost two hundred million dollars and its an election year……

Comments

*

Annual fundraising appeal: If we had a dollar for every comment, we could end this annual fund drive now. Donate now.
Comment policy Privacy policy
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Vermont Health Connect shakes up practices, adds personnel"