BARRE — In the wake of further revelations about the extent of problems with Vermont Health Connect this week, Gov. Peter Shumlin called the situation “unacceptable” and said it’s his responsibility to fix.
“There’s been nothing more frustrating for me in my tenure as governor than the Vermont Health Connect website,” Shumlin told reporters at a Thursday news conference in Barre.
Thousands of Vermonters have had difficulty verifying that they are covered because the website won’t allow users to fix mistakes in the information they enter or make changes to their coverage.
Many people aren’t finding out that there is a problem until they go to the pharmacy or visit the doctor. Others are seeing their payments lost in the system or receiving the wrong invoices.
It was revealed this week that 22,000 Medicaid beneficiaries who were part of the program before the launch of Vermont Health Connect are unable to, or are not, using the website to renew their coverage.
The state has federal approval to pay claims for those people without reviewing their eligibility and is asking providers to treat people that say they have Medicaid.
To fix those errors or make changes people must go through the Vermont Health Connect call center. With the help of a new contractor, the state has created a process to expedite issues that could prevent someone from accessing care, but that process can still take hours on the phone.
If there’s no immediate access to care issue, it can take days or weeks to fix an issue.
“It’s frustrating; it’s enraging, and I can’t wait to get it fixed,” Shumlin said.
Asked if the $72 million spent thus far, or the expected price tag of close to $171 million, are acceptable amounts to implement the Affordable Care Act for roughly 170,000 Vermonters, Shumlin said not currently.
“At this point, definitely not worth the money. My hope is we can make it worth the money by getting it right, and as governor that’s my job,” he said.
Despite his frustration, Shumlin said he does not plan to make changes in leadership at Vermont Health Connect.
“You don’t just go around shooting people,” he said. “What you do is get the team together to solve the problems, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
What’s most important going forward is to make sure there are contingencies in place to allow for a smooth open enrollment period in November, Shumlin said, referring to it as “the open enrollment deadline.”
Earlier in the week, Shumlin’s recently appointed Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller suggested the state would likely continue processing changes — and eventually renewals — manually, instead of trying to integrate the IT systems that would allow those processes to be automated.
Vermont has said it will ask insurance carriers MVP Health Care and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont to continue enrolling small business employees, because the website is unlikely to work for their employers anytime soon. The carriers have signed up 34,000 of the 67,000 commercial customers on the exchange with few issues.
Shumlin said Vermont is not alone in its exchange woes.
“Every governor has struggled, with the exception of one or two, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Some are in much deeper messes than I am,” he said.
He said “Washington politics” have prevented the law from being improved since its passage.