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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Paper Application Added For Health Insurance Website

Toby Talbot
Associated Press

There are still glitches and work-arounds for insurance plans marketed through Vermont Health Connect, the online exchange that opened for business on Oct. 1.

State say they are making progress toward speedier and smoother access to the new website, but meanwhile, there’s a stopgap method.

When it became clear last week that many employers and employees were having trouble logging in or staying on the website that allows them to shop for insurance plans, state officials offered a low-tech, short-term Plan B—paper.

Mark Larson is the commissioner who oversees the new marketplace. He says employers can use the downloadable forms to take detailed notes before choosing their plans. But he also admits that paperwork is not a complete substitute for the more information-rich online applications. He also concedes that the website is still not fully  accommodating the thousands of Vermonters trying to use it.

“No, we are not satisfied that we have gotten to the point that we expect Vermont Health Connect to be at. We’ve made significant progress over the past week that we are happy to see, but we continue to work very diligently to make sure it gets to the place where people can use it and not have to address some of the ongoing challenges that they are seeing today,” Larson said.

Because the website is still slow, some brokers have decided not to use it at all—or the paper forms—until it works better. Tom Rugg, an account executive at Hickock Boardman Insurance Company, says clients are turning to his brokers for technical advice, yet the brokers are not fully trained to give it.

“It puts us in a difficult position because we as brokers haven’t had a whole lot of training on the site in terms of the functionality and what it looks like. We’ve been given screen shots over the several weeks, but again we haven’t been able to play with the true functionality of the site and how it indeed works,” Rugg said.

Or doesn’t work. But Rugg says he thinks brokers, employers, and consumers should have expected some technical problems at the starting line. He says he won’t panic until, say, Thanksgiving, if the technical issues are not solved by then. The deadline for purchasing policies is December 31, and state officials expect most of the shopping to be done in November.

Commissioner Larson says so far over 3,400 Vermonters have started to set up accounts.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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