Health Care

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.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Privacy policy
Morgan True

Recent Stories

  • Hale Irrwin

    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

    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?

  • 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 2-3 years ago, CIGNA offered more comprehensive benefit plans at lower premiums when compared to BCBSVT and MVP.
    Partner with providers and payers to identify the largest cost improvement opportunities and best solutions. |

  • Lyle M. Miller, Sr.

    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

    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

    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

    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

  • Steve McKenzie

    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 perfect tomorrow, but it will be functioning and perfect in the foreseeable future.” “I’m confident that not only will Vermont Health Connect be up and running Jan. 1 (2014), but doing its job.”
    Nine months later: “It’s frustrating; it’s enraging, and I can’t wait to get it fixed.” “My hope is we can make it worth the money by getting it right, and as governor that’s my job.”
    Leadership is now hoping to get it done? At what time? At what cost?

    In March, the BerryDunn report on continuing VHC problems cited political pressures, poor governance and a work culture that “does not encourage questioning, conflict, or engaged problem solving, and inexperienced leadership does not know when to raise issues above them.”

    All these issues point to leadership.

    This past week, Lawrence Miller, after stating that he did not believe basic functionality of VHC will be fixed by the fall enrollment period, went on to state that he “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.”

    At this point, leadership apparently has no understanding of:
    A. the scope of VHC problems
    B. the time to correct VHC problems
    C. and therefore, the cost to correct VHC problems.

    Leadership, however, is apparently confident there is no need to change VHC leadership.

    I truly hope Vermont voters have a different opinion in November.

    • Bruce Post

      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

    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

    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 expecting that the Governor will soon be using the problems with VHC to justify going to his next complex and uncertain venture into single payer — without acknowledging that many of the VHC problems stem from his desire to use it as a stepping stone to GMC instead of a tool to help Vermonters now. He is essentially going to say to Vermonters, “hey, I know VHC is screwed up, but now you should allow me to design and implement a much larger and more complex program instead.” Sometimes when you screw up it is better to hit pause or rewind, not fast forward ….

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  • 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

    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” plan will not be held harmless. Benefits will be reduced, out-of-pocket costs will increase and care will be rationed. To top it off, the same management structure will be in place. Politicians and political appointees will be in charge. Leaders will still, not be selected, based on their skill or expertise.
    Some of the problems we see in state government today are the result of leadership not having the required expertise. When “single payer” does go into effect many of people who put the system in, will be long gone and there will be no accountability. The next group of leaders will be saying “don’t blame us, we just got here, we inherited this mess.”

  • Karl Riemer

    “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 job, the way he does it, but does he contribute one iota of creative or executive effort? A master of glib evasion and simulated sincerity, piling platitudes on top of pious protestations, he talks and talks and talks – generally about himself – but what has he done? What is he doing?

    Deflecting, that’s what he’s doing. Dodging, dissembling, ducking, dancing, defusing… he’s running for office. You’d think he’d have relaxed that reflex by now, since he’s running unopposed (don’t even…), but it’s ingrained. It’s what he knows how to do. Once again, the eternal question rises: is success in electoral politics a reasonable predictor of competence in office? Does campaigning savoir-faire and stamina reliably translate into diligence or even interest in doing the job?

  • Craig Powers

    “It’s up me to fix it…”

    By throwing another $100 million at it?

    One word describes this whole debacle.


  • Keith Stern

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

  • ray giroux

    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

    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

    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 this mess, and Shumlin will not go to the private sector with a national search to get qualified people.

    If you take note of the intransigence, false promises, untruths and transfer of responsibility that have earmarked this entire project, you can begin to see what single payer will look like.

    Remember that a government-run single payer system is not inevitable. Laws can be amended, and laws can be repealed.

    Folks, remember that legislative balance is required to achieve this. The Democratic majority has proven that they will not stand up to Shumlin and will not question his judgments. The Republican minority is so small that they are not listened to.

    It may be anathema for Democrats to vote for Republicans this fall, but hold your breath and do it anyway. Without some balance in the legislature in 2015, we are screwed.

    • 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 disaster, prompting her to bail out before the shrapnel of failure took her out.

      When Wallack quit, the Governor selected Al Gobeille, a Burlington restaurateur with essentially no health care experience providing further evidence in support of your assertion. I understand that Mr. Gobeille is a very decent person and an able restaurant operator, but he doesn’t have the level of expertise to lead a very key part of the $5 billion health care reform effort. Was he the best available in the state? If he was, then your point is reinforced.

      Commissioner Larson’s record speaks for itself. He’s over his head and the Governor needs to make a change. I doubt if he was anywhere near the most qualified person in the state when hired. No need to pay both him and Larry Miller at a time when the state’s looking at a $31 million revenue shortfall.

      Robin Lunge ironically stated something to the effect that: making policy is easy, putting it place is hard. She was definitely correct, especially if you’re not qualified to do so. Her recent unbelievably remarkable commentary attempting to justify the exchange by saying it was saving money because the state could pay subsidies not available under the federal exchange is troubling at best. This thinking is so deficient and insulting to the people of Vermont, one has to wonder if she’s up to the task.

      Michael Costa was hire more than a year ago as Shumlin’s health care finance czar tasked with finding ways to finance single payer. Last week, at the eleventh hour before needing to get a finance plan to the legislature, the Governor hired MIT economist Jonathan Grubner for $400,000 to do the work Michael Costa has been working on for more than a year. Was Costa, a lawyer with a history degree, qualified to do complex economic modeling? Apparently not.

      Kathy, you could have a point wondering if there is anyone in Vermont qualified to fix this mess. On the other hand, I believe there are talented people in Vermont capable of turning things around, however, the Governor lacks the skills needed to identify and hire these qualified folks. Additionally, its probably safe to say that qualified managers, don’t want to be involved with an assignment where the boss is so flippant or uninformed that he calls huge multi-million problems “Nothingburgers”.

      Although you are correct that the health care situation is a mess. My guess is that there are talented managers in Vermont, we just don’t have a Governor with the skills necessary to select the best qualified people for complex jobs. Compounding the problem, really able people just don’t want to work for incompetent bosses further complicating filling positions.

      To fix this mess, its time to make a change at the top and find an executive capable of running the state. That person is right here in Vermont.

      Randy Brock can do the job………write him in for Governor in November!