State takes Vermont Health Connect website offline

VHC down

WINOOSKI — The Vermont Health Connect website was taken down Monday night and will remain offline to correct functionality problems and allow for improvements to data security, state officials said Tuesday.

Customers who need to report changes in income or make changes to their coverage or personal information will need to contact the customer service call center at 855-899-9600. Everyone with health insurance purchased through the exchange is still covered, officials said.

Officials did not say how long the state’s health insurance exchange website will be down. It could be weeks, not days, before Vermont Health Connect is back online.

Gov. Peter Shumlin acknowledged public frustration with the website at a hastily arranged press conference on Tuesday morning. The state is taking it offline for repairs, he said, and will relaunch it to ensure a smooth open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (left) and interim Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Harry Chen announced Tuesday that the Vermont Health Connect website will be offline for repairs. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin (left) and interim Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Harry Chen announced Tuesday that the Vermont Health Connect website will be offline for repairs. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

“No one is more frustrated than me with the slow process we’ve had,” Shumlin said.

Harry Chen, the interim secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said the decision to take the website offline “wasn’t made lightly.”

State officials were adamant that the site was not taken down in response to a specific data breach or security threat. They emphasized the move was a “proactive step” to enhance security and improve the site’s usability.

Confidential consumer information was not compromised at any time, Chen said. The need for improved security is a response to changes in the online environment, according to Lawrence Miller, chief of the state’s health care reform efforts.

The decision was made over the weekend, Miller said, and was largely a response to warnings about increased security threats.

“We take the advice of our security experts, and when they see the environment changing from a threat perspective, we change to meet that threat,” Miller said.

“You’re careful not to create an attractive target,” he added.

The exchange is disconnected from the federal data hub, Miller said, and income-based subsidy eligibility determinations will be confirmed manually using other federal data sources.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave its blessing for the state’s decision. The federal government is bankrolling the project and continues to be a “close partner” in the project’s development, officials said.

Policy choices spark political pushback

Vermont was the only state to require that insurance products for the individual market be sold through a state exchange.

Shumlin’s critics have consistently said that was a mistake, especially given the website’s poor performance.

Vermont was also the only state to require employers with 50 or fewer workers to purchase exchange products, however the website was never able to handle business customers. Shumlin allowed small companies to enroll directly with an insurer last year. The governor announced earlier this summer that direct enrollment will be available for employers this year as well.

Scott Milne, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, said that Vermonters would do well to remember the website’s failures in the November election.

“It keeps getting worse for Vermonters,” Milne said in a statement, “The catastrophic failure of Vermont Health Connect is putting Vermonters at risk.”

The statement said Milne will continue to meet with medical professionals as he develops a health care platform, and urged Shumlin to do likewise, but he did not articulate a course of action to remediate the exchange or reform health care in the state.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott issued a statement saying Vermont should transition to the “much simpler and fully functional” federal exchange that “27 other states have successfully used,” and pull the plug on a system that has “created very real problems for thousands of Vermonters.”

Scott’s opponent in the November election, Progressive candidate Dean Corren, said such calls are “cavalier” and ultimately not practical if Vermont wants to preserve state-sponsored subsidies offered through its exchange. Corren won a write-in campaign in the Democratic primary and will appear on the Democratic ballot.

Shumlin echoed Corren’s statement, saying it was his understanding that Vermont could not offer additional subsidies through the federal exchange.

Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano, applauded Shumlin’s decision to take the site down. He said it was the right move to protect people’s personal information, which could have been exposed during remediation work.

Feliciano said the website should stay offline “permanently.” He believes Vermont should join the federal exchange.

“Health care is a technology business, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves,” he said. “I’m concerned that Vermont Health Connect will destroy people’s faith in the state providing technology solutions to further reduce costs and improve efficiency.”

At the news conference, Shumlin said a smooth open enrollment period will restore that faith.

“These actions are being taken so Vermonters will have faith in the system,” he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., offered his support for Shumlin’s decision. In a statement, he called it a “critical step” toward getting the website to function properly.

Leahy said he is hopeful that by taking the website down, the problems can be addressed and operations can resume quickly.

Maintenance period won’t fix missing components

None of the major functions that are still being developed will be launched when the website comes back online, Miller said.

The timeline for adding the missing elements, such as online changes to coverage and personal information or allowing small businesses to use the site has not changed. That functionality won’t be ready until next year.

Fewer people have been using the site in recent weeks, officials said, dampening the impact of taking it offline. Officials will closely monitor call center volumes and wait times to ensure that people are getting the help they need, Miller said.

Before the site was taken down there were 30 new applications and 750 transactions a week taking place online. State officials did not know how many unique visitors the website receives.

Miller said 20 percent to 25 percent of customers with commercial coverage were making premium payments online. Those customers will be contacted by the state, and told to make their payments by mail or through the call center.

Site users are expected to increase with open enrollment because current customers must renew coverage and new ones are expected to sign up.

How does VHC measure up?

Vermont has spent more than $100 million implementing the Affordable Care Act, and has a federal earmark of $171 million to complete the exchange.

Miller has said he expects the exchange project will take the full earmark to complete.

Kyle McDowell, a project manager for Optum — the state’s new primary tech contractor — said it’s “apples and oranges” to compare Vermont’s situation to other states.

Other states where Optum is doing remediation work have had some of the same problems as Vermont but each state faces “unique challenges,” McDowell said.

Miller said some states have had more success building exchanges, and other less, pointing out that several “gave up” and chose to go with the federal healthcare.gov website. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has suggested that Vermont should do likewise.

New Chain of Command for VHC

Officials also announced changes to the management structure of Vermont Health Connect. Responsibility for the exchange will be removed from the Department of Vermont Health Access, Chen said.

Its management will be consolidated under a single chain of command with all contractors and state workers reporting to Miller, who will report to Chen.

The Health Access Eligibility Unit, which makes Medicaid and state subsidy determinations for exchange users, will be moved out of the Department for Children and Families and into the exchange’s new system.

Chen thanked DVHA commissioner Mark Larson for his work on Vermont Health Connect and said Larson will continue to work on “many other important tasks that (DVHA) has to accomplish.”

Larson, who stood off to the side during Tuesday’s press conference, was not asked to speak.

For much of its first year, Larson was the face of Vermont Health Connect. His role has been diminished since Shumlin brought in Miller.

Larson’s deputy commissioner, Lindsey Tucker, was recently transitioned out of her leadership role within Vermont Health Connect. The two were previously the top state officials managing the exchange.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:17 p.m. Tuesday.

Morgan True

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46 Comments on "State takes Vermont Health Connect website offline"

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Gary Shattuck
2 years 2 months ago

This is what over $100,000,000 of our tax dollars buys? Absolutely, unequivocally shameful.

Chet Greenwood
2 years 2 months ago

The sad part is that 41% of the voters still support Shumlin no matter how much he spends or how non-transparent he and his Administration have become.

Tom Sullivan
2 years 2 months ago

Hey Chet,
Your correct, and it drives me crazy. The governor takes advantage of a vulnerable neighbor, flashes his senate ID when pulled over for speeding, then launches VT health connect claiming it will lower premiums while BCBS and MVP get the green light for a rather large rate increase.
And as November approaches, voters stop complaining and become afflicted with political amnesia on the way to the voting booth. I don’t pretend to understand the phenomenon.

Chris Lewis
2 years 2 months ago

I am very glad they do not have my family’s information.

Sorry for anyone who trusted Shumlin and his trusted crew with their personal data. Call a lawyer.

Kevin Pecor
2 years 2 months ago

Even this decision was done without thought… All of VHC support staff across the state found out the site was taken down by reading it in the news… This is another prime example of poor leadership… Please vote for Scott Milne… Part time Pete has to go!

2 years 2 months ago

Governor Shumlin is doing his best to distance the debacle that is Vermont Health Connect from Green Mountain Care. However, let’s not forget that Act 48 states explicitly:

“The intent of the general assembly is to establish the Vermont health benefit exchange in a manner such that it may become the foundation for Green Mountain Care.”

And that is what they’ve done. What we see crumbling before us is the “foundation of Green Mountain Care.”

Walter Carpenter
2 years 2 months ago

What we see crumbling before us is the “foundation of Green Mountain Care.”

What it shows is that we should have been allowed by the feds to bypass these crazy exchanges, which are still private insurance, and gone straight to GMC.

Jim Christiansen
2 years 2 months ago

It’s not the Feds who chose our path Walter, it was elected Democrats and our current president who mandated these “crazy exchanges”.

It don’t believe it is credible to hope, wish, or dream that the same folks who brought us the current mandated situation will make it all better with their secret health care and financing plan.

Stephen Saltonstall
2 years 2 months ago

Milne’s best argument isn’t that Gov. Shumlin is a “radical.” There’s nothing particularly radical about single-payer, though it remains to be seen whether it can be done on the state level. The real issue, in my opinion, is the incompetence of the Shumlin administration. “Nothingburger?” That’s what the administration has delivered.

ray giroux
2 years 2 months ago

First of all, we do not want the”progressive” health care. It will “progress” toward higher cast and higher taxes.

Second, it is against the Constitution of the US for the Government to make a product and at the same time make it mandatory for people to purchase that product, unless we are under a Socialist State, ignoring the peoples rights.

Opt out of the “Nothingburger”! We are not ingredients!

krister adams
2 years 2 months ago

Ray, While I do understand the utter B.S. of this situation, I am wondering why you feel you can speak for all proclaiming “We do not want…”. Also, What “product” is being produced here? Where in the Constitution does it say such things?

Townsend Peters
2 years 2 months ago

So are you driving without insurance, since the government can’t make you buy it?

David Dempsey
2 years 2 months ago

Townsend,
The law requires me to buy liability insurance so I can drive my car if I have one. But the state doesn’t mandate where I buy it and charge me a tax if I don’t have a car or purchase insurance from a state selected provider. Notice I am talking about my situation, not yours. I don’t know what the constitution says about such government mandates, but if I could afford it, I would take the state to court over the mandate.

James Link
2 years 2 months ago

Yes, siree.
We are getting hosed by the VT Progressives. The state is paying dearly to set up this system, and Shumlin won’t give us a cost and means to implant single payer Green Mountain Care. I’m moving out of the state soon.

The whole thing is a radical departure from the way we do our health care.

rosemarie jackowski
2 years 2 months ago

Remember this in November. There are other candidates on the ballot.

Single Payer saves money, and it saves lives. We can no longer afford to support insurance companies and Wall Street.

We need transparency…total transparency. We need to elect a governor who will be honest, ethical, and up front. The democrats have proven that they can’t do that.

We can’t keep voting the same way and expect a different result. Give the Liberty Union Party a try. I promise you, it won’t get any worse, and it might get a whole lot better.

Jon Corrigan
2 years 2 months ago

The only way this could get any worse is if the State put up a wall around the borders to prevent any of us from leaving.

Morgan W. Brown
2 years 2 months ago

It would now appear that the state has put the Vermont Health Connect Website into an induced coma and, by all accounts, it is virtually on life support.

Aula DeWitt
2 years 2 months ago

I wonder if this constitutes the entirety of the DCF reorg?

Kathy Callaghan
2 years 2 months ago

It may be a minor point, but I do wish the Governor would stop saying that no one is more frustrated with Vermont Health Connect than he. Trust me, there are a lot of folks who are more frustrated than the Governor, and he should acknowledge that.

Wendy wilton
2 years 2 months ago
Kathy, you are right on. People whose premiums skyrocketed or could not obtain the same coverage they had before at the same price are likely much more frustrated (and angry) than Peter Shumlin. Shumlin does not experience the pain of VHC because he enjoys the same non-VHC, deluxe insurance plan the state employees have. So, onto single payer. He still won’t be sharing our health care plan once we transition…remember he is a very wealth guy. It is likely that single payer will be a minimum health care plan and will be rationed due to cost…if Shumlin gets cancer, you… Read more »
2 years 2 months ago

We’ve had “rationing” for as long as we have had insurance companies in control of our health care. It’s called high “deductibles and co-pays!”

David Dempsey
2 years 2 months ago

Jerry,
Shumlin has said that there will be deductibles and co-pays with the single payer plan. Until his plan is released, we won’t know how much they will be.

Mark Kevorkian
2 years 2 months ago

I don’t think it’s a minor point, Kathy; I believe it is indicative of how utterly disingenuous our governor is, and how willfully oblivious he’s been about the travesty of VHC since before its inception.

Another gem from VHC officials is that “fewer people have been using the site lately,” so it’s convenient to take it down now. Perhaps the lack of traffic on the site is because it simply does not work.

Paul Richards
2 years 2 months ago
“…I do wish the Governor would stop saying that no one is more frustrated with Vermont Health Connect than he. He learned that from his dear leader obama. He acts like he is sharing our pain and in the same boat as the rest of us even though he is the one that created the very problem he is so upset about. It’s in the liberal play book. “Don’t blame me” even though I have been in charge for 6 years. I took your tax dollars to complete shovel ready jobs but now I’m frustrated that our roads and bridges… Read more »
Jay Eshelman
2 years 2 months ago

Forgive my cynicism, but is this a politically convenient take-down? Let me guess: the “period of extended maintenance” will end soon after the November election. After all, according to Lawrence Miller, chief of the state’s health care reform effort, “None of the major functions that are still being developed will be launched when the website comes back online,…” anyway. So much for ‘security’.

Kathy Callaghan
2 years 2 months ago

It is slated to end on November 15th.

Greg Lapworth
2 years 2 months ago

Isn’t the governor really “slick” taking the site down before the elections. No website screw-ups till after the elections. How much more does this cost the taxpayers? He’s a great politician!?

Linda Baird-White
2 years 2 months ago

“politically convenient take-down”. That would strategically prevent any further site deficiencies from being discovered and brought into light until After the elections. This is the same scenario we have seen with No Word as to how it will be funded…until After the elections.

Same strategy.

2 years 2 months ago

The $100 million “Nothing Burger” originally brought to Vermont by visionary Peter Shumlin will not be available until…….?

While most Vermonters don’t like the taste of the “Nothing Burger”, according to recent polls, a vast number of Vermonters still have an appetite for more of Mr. Shumlin’s fine cuisine.

How does one explains this contradiction to the rational world?

Townsend Peters
2 years 2 months ago

There goes Bumblin’ Shumlin again.

Too bad the alternatives are worse.

Peter Yankowski
2 years 2 months ago

True, the alternatives seem to offer little, that’s why the adults in the Democrat dominated legislature have to step up and bring Mr. Shumlin under control.

Sadly, it is doubtful that a resolution of the leadership problems plaguing this state will be provided by the Governor’s race, so the answer has to come from the House and Senate members.

Kathy Callaghan
2 years 2 months ago

So far it hasn’t.

Townsend Peters
2 years 2 months ago

Good point, Peter, but I am not sure that there are enough adults in the legislature.

2 years 2 months ago
Even if all the IT problems with the ACA exchange’s were to go away today, we would still have an overly expensive, complicated, health insurance based health care system and still not have universal coverage… the only way to have affordable, accessible, universal, and equitable health care is through single payer. We’ve had decades of trying to reform private sector health insurance to meet the above goals without success. There are many examples world wide of how to accomplish this including Medicare in the U.S. The complex problems of the ACA (VHC) is the result of trying to do health… Read more »
Keith Stern
2 years 2 months ago

Medicare works because the government tells healthcare providers they are going to be underpaid for services, period.
If it wasn’t for the insurance companies and the self insured paying a fair amount then there would be no medical providers, no advancements in medicines, and extreme shortages of medicines, supplies, and medical equipment.
Find out what happened to Boston Hospital.

2 years 2 months ago

It’s the policy holders and the employees that are paying the freight in premiums and co-pays., not the self insured or insurance companies. Also our hospital system is too top heavy in administrative salaries and bonuses along with poor investment practices.(see previous Digger article) Also huge billing departments drive up costs.

Nancy Fried
2 years 2 months ago

Ready, shoot, aim—-this is just a perfect example of how the Shumlin administration governs our state. Let’s destroy our ridge lines for industrial wind friends and see how it works out, no planning, inexperienced mangers (political friends) and on and on and on. Just wait and see what the next fiasco is. Too bad for Vermonters.
Kim Fried

rosemarie jackowski
2 years 2 months ago

It is time for the Health Connect Site to commit ‘Assisted Suicide’. Many Vermonters are ready to ‘assist’.

Let’s get on with it. Single Payer is needed now. Someone, please tell the governor that these delays are putting people at real risk.

We will remember in November.

Brad Peacock
2 years 2 months ago
“Everyone with health insurance purchased through the exchange is still covered, officials said.” That statement is FALSE and shows just how out of touch the administration has become with the lives of Vermonters as well as the workers on the front-lines of VHC. My partner and I purchased coverage through the exchange, and our premiums are verifiably paid through the end of Sept. However, MVP sent us a notice last week informing us that our insurance was no longer active! We have spent hours on the phone with Vermont Health Connect to resolve the issue, and yesterday we were even… Read more »
Brad Peacock
2 years 2 months ago
“Everyone with health insurance purchased through the exchange is still covered, officials said.” That statement is FALSE and shows just how out of touch the administration has become with the lives of Vermonters as well as the workers on the front-lines of VHC. My partner and I purchased coverage through the exchange, and our premiums are verifiably paid through the end of Sept. However, MVP sent us a notice last week informing us that our insurance was no longer active! We have spent hours on the phone with Vermont Health Connect to resolve the issue, and yesterday we were even… Read more »
Ron Pulcer
2 years 2 months ago
Meanwhile, Governor Shumlin makes sure that “His Website” is up and running: http://shumlinforgovernor.com/issues I noticed that out of the 6 top issues, according to the Governor’s campaign website, Healthcare is now Issue #5. The Opiate/Heroin Addiction has fallen from #1 (State of the State Address) to number #4. Also, notice that the Donate link on the Governor’s campaign website happens to be “up and running” by golly! Maybe the Governor and VHC management should have contracted with MyNGP VAN Inc., instead of CGI and Optum. I’m sure that MyNGP is getting him his campaign donations pronto! http://www.myngp.com/ I want to… Read more »
Steven Farnham
2 years 2 months ago
Come on, Ron, Vermont Health Connect is a little more complex than a “Please Donate” website, and the latter wasn’t built by CGI. One thing is certain: The single-payer haters sure enjoy kicking the stuffing out of someone while he’s down. Gov. Shumlin has made some choices I don’t like also, but if you think something this big is going to launch without issues – you’re dreaming. Since there are problems, let’s just give up on the whole thing. That’s the spirit. That’s the sprit that got the transcontinental railroad built – it got us through two world wars, and… Read more »
Ron Pulcer
2 years 2 months ago
I didn’t say “just give up the whole thing”. That was not my intent at all. Rather we need leaders who “will” perform better in regards to campaign promises and Vermont law (Act 48). Yes, a healthcare exchange is a very challenging project. My company does some internal IT projects which are complex, and involve many people and moving parts. The difference is that we hired qualified in-house people, who know the technology and get the know the business side over time. On the other hand, too many state governments, federal agencies, and also corporations have outsourced strategic IT systems… Read more »
Theresa Maurice
2 years 2 months ago

Thank goodness that my son was just properly processed in this system, after 6 months of active, though spotty, communication with them. He unfortunately incurred 7k of medical bills in the past 2 months., and was concerned that every time he went to the hospital for treatment, they could find no record of him in the system, despite VHC saying it was taken care of. Young, responsible, Environmental Bachelors degree from this state, and of good character, he felt terrible. We voted Shumlin last time.,and this is not our only real concern. Nevermore.

Jim Candon
2 years 2 months ago

Recent ideas gone poorly:

Burlington Telecom
Burlington College
Burlington City School budget
Vermont Health Connect

Nothing to see here folks; move along.

Jessica Burrill
2 years 2 months ago

‘No one is more frustrated than me’ says the healthy actively covered Governor. Really? Even more than the pro-active Vermonter living with a debiliating disease who can’t leave her house due to chronic pain, until her coverage is active in the system, which is a process we can only ‘wait’ to rectify itself? Even more than her? Shame on you.

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