Governor says it’s up to him to fix Vermont Health Connect

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Lawrence Miller, chief of the state's heath care reform effort, attend a news conference Thursday in Barre to announce an grant to repair flood damage in the city. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Lawrence Miller, chief of the state’s heath care reform effort, attend a news conference Thursday in Barre to announce an grant to repair flood damage in the city. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

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.

Morgan True

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20 Comments on "Governor says it’s up to him to fix Vermont Health Connect"

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Hale Irrwin
1 year 10 months ago

As far back as 15 years ago I recall all state governments (nationwide) IT projects have been fraught with problems and disaster. The complexity and integration of many legacy systems make the projects close to impossible! Vermont certainly is not alone in this problem.. State’s, taxpayers and users suffer but contractors and consultants continue to get rich!

Jim christiansen
1 year 10 months ago

Sorry Governor, it’s not ” Washington politics” that have screwed Vermonters.

Take a good long look in the mirror Mr. Shumlin. Good intentions noted, it is Vermont Democrats that mandated participation through a website that doesn’t work that is continually screwing Vermonters.

You can change this problem Monday morning if you truly care about Vermonters, the damage this fiasco has caused to the credibility of government, and the havoc / cost that mandated participation has wrought.

Do you have the stones Governor?

1 year 10 months ago
Shumlin, you’ve had your chance and you blew it. It’s my turn to take over at the helm. I will scrap the system and immediately start to negotiate with payers. I will open up the exchange to other insurers; Allow more choice, outside of the exchanges. Although there are 12 plans offered in VT Health Connect, there are essentially only 4 plans due to ACA requirements. The choice is broad or narrow network. Encourage competition. Specifically, make Vermont more attractive to national/regional payers by working with the legislators to move to a broader adjusted community rating system. As recently as… Read more »
Lyle M. Miller, Sr.
1 year 10 months ago

Maybe now, Vermont citizens will now wake up to the fact that the Shumlin plan is doomed and well as his leadership and move him out of office in November. That’s the best move we can make.

Carl Marcinkowski
1 year 10 months ago

It’s all a ‘nothing-burger’, right? What a crock.

Dan, Cigna was not a good insurance plan when our group had them for a very short time. I also got negative comments from my provider about them.
I will look into your credentials and position on the issues in respect for your run for governor. Thank you.

Kate Fox
1 year 10 months ago

Why the idea that when one of the smallest states in the country tries to go it alone to set up a complex system, with a dismissive attitude towards common sense planning and continued foot dragging on accountability, and with no consequences to those at the top who refused to acknowledge the failure despite repeated alerts, is not creating more dismay in the minds of Vermonters is a surprise. Seems a vivid example of hubris and bullying at work.

John McClaughry
1 year 10 months ago

He [Shumlin] said “Washington politics” have prevented the law from being improved since its passage.
This will be a leading item in Shumlin’s ultimate scapegoat list, to explain why his superhuman efforts to install single payer failed.
For those interested in my July 15 National Review Online article on developments so far, it’s at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/382736/first-single-payer-domino-john-mcclaughry

Steve McKenzie
1 year 10 months ago
The Governor states the obvious (it’s his job to fix VHC) apparently in an effort to reassure taxpayers, yet provides no specifics, deliverables or timeframes to actually instill any confidence in his ability to do so. In fairness, with VHC it appears no one knows the true scope of all the issues and therefore cannot provide any believable answers as to how much time and money will actually be required to make it work. At this point in time and investment, that is a very telling statement and points directly at leadership. On 10/23/13, the Governor stated “(VHC) won’t be… Read more »
Bruce Post
1 year 10 months ago

Mr. McKenzie, you are one of the few people of whom I am aware who has raised what I think is the most devastating critique of the BerryDunn report: Namely, the serious effect of political influence on the process and the high level of fear within the organization. Generally speaking, good things rarely happen in such scenarios.

Thank you.

Kim Fried Newark, Vermont
1 year 10 months ago

I’m happy to hear that the Governor is finally admitting to these serious problems. Just throwing more and more millions of dollars at the problems doesn’t seem to be working. Promoting those who have been directly involved and hiring more consultant does seem to work either. So my suggestion is that the good Governor who finally has admitted the seriousness of the problem and as he states it’s his responsibility to solve them finally be a leader and resign and let someone more capable help the citizens of Vermont.

Cynthia Browning
1 year 10 months ago
If participation in VHC were made voluntary now, (as it always should have been) individuals who are not eligible for federal subsidies could buy directly from insurance companies. This would free up the exchange staff to help the Vermonters who must use VHC to straighten out all the problems getting reliable coverage. How could the Administration have thought that Vermonters covered by Medicaid could use the website to renew their coverage, when the VHC staff themselves can barely make it work? And some of those on Medicaid may not have computer skills, computers, or high speed internet service? I am… Read more »
1 year 10 months ago

This isn’t just a failure of technology. People are going to die. People are going to flip out: I just heard a horror story about someone’s schizophrenic uncle who could not see his doctor or get his medication.

The governor is taking a big risk by saying all this is his responsibility. If “Washington politics” are preventing him from moving forward, it sounds like his party at the national level is not behind him, and no one should blame him if he resigns.

Dave Bellini
1 year 10 months ago
I am concerned that the problems Vermonters are experiencing will only the tip of the iceberg if people are forced into a state run “single payer.” I believe that state employees, retired state employees, teachers and retired teachers will be “losers” to quote a term now used by Robin Lunge. I think there will be many other “losers” as well. The “losers” will pay more, to get less. There will be the same administrative problems people are now experiencing with the exchange plans. The federal money will dry up and when V T has its next recession the “single payer”… Read more »
Karl Riemer
1 year 10 months ago
“My hope is we can make it worth the money by getting it right, and as governor that’s my job” There you have it in a nutshell: his job as governor is hoping things work out. Sending unconscionable sums of money to a demonstrably inept contractor, abdicating the state’s leverage for persuading it to actually work on the project by repeatedly forgiving deadlines, devoting his energy to speeches expressing his feelings, that’s doing his job as he sees it: publicly, fervently hoping someone will eventually “get it right”. Does the man ever do anything besides blow smoke? That’s a full-time… Read more »
Craig Powers
1 year 10 months ago

“It’s up me to fix it…”

By throwing another $100 million at it?

One word describes this whole debacle.

Pathetic.

Keith Stern
1 year 10 months ago

“It’s up me to fix it…”
We are in serious trouble then.

ray giroux
1 year 10 months ago

The wheels have fallen off – it’s done – broken – a very bad investment of tax payer money – failed – should be abandoned with monies spent on real healthcare programs – made in Vt. not Obamaland.

Shumlin is playing right off the DC script – he wants to go to Washington – be a big important man – even if untruths and backdoor deals are his only strong points.

If he gets elected again it is our fault!

Spread the word, Shumlins a loser –

rosemarie jackowski
1 year 10 months ago

November is coming fast. If we are going to do something to fix health care, we need to start now. And yes, if he gets elected again, we deserve what we get. Voting has consequences.

Think about how much money has been wasted on IT, and how we could have used that money for real health care. How many dental clinics could have been set up?

Kathy Callaghan
1 year 10 months ago
Shumlin gets an F for judgment. Remember that it was his judgment to put Mark Larson, a former social worker. in charge of Vermont Health Connect – along with Robin Lunge, an attorney. Both nice people, but certainly not qualified for the job, as he should have known then – and we all know now. From the get-go, Vermont Health Connect has been a total disaster, and the people in state government “running” it don’t know what to do, or even how to manage a contractor to produce the desired results. There is no one qualified in Vermont to fix… Read more »
1 year 10 months ago
Kathy: You mention that: “There is no one in Vermont qualified to fixed this mess.” Looking at hires across health care reform management you may be correct in your assertion. But there may be other factors at play. Lets look at the record. At the start, Shumlin elected to go out of state to hire Anya Rader Wallack as his health reform guru. This key first choice appears to support to your assertion that there was no one qualified in Vermont. Ms. Wallack is certainly smart. Smart enough to have recognized that Shumlin’s health care reform effort was heading for… Read more »
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