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

State Officials May Have to Delay Key Feature of Health Care Exchange

Toby Talbot
Associated Press
Workers at the Vermont Health Connect call center talk to customers on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Burlington.

There’s certainly been a lot of interest in the state’s new health care exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect. Roughly 80,000 people have visited the website since October 1st and over 7,000 accounts have been opened.

In addition, 950 people have selected the plan that they want - but there’s a problem – the website is unable to process their payment electronically.

Kevin Goddard is a vice president at Blue Cross. In recent months, he’s been concerned that the computer system that links the state website with Blue Cross has not been thoroughly tested. Goddard says that testing is now underway.

“So while November 1st is no magic date, we are well into the period as well that I think we all will breathe a little easier when we know that the systems are up and working and that this is going to be a successful implementation,” Goddard said.

So our schedule remains the same but we also want to make sure that the system works before we turn it on - DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson

Goddard says the scale of this project is daunting.

“Moving 80,000 to 100,000 people to a new way of obtaining their health care coverage on a system that’s being built for this purpose that needs to integrate with the systems of the health plan is of an order of magnitude that is very, very unique and probably unprecedented,” said Goddard.

Mark Larson is the commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access.  He’d like to meet the November 1st target date but he notes that it’s not a legal deadline.

“November is different from October. In October we had a statutory deadline to launch Vermont Health Connect on October 1st and right now we have a marketplace that’s live,” said Larson. “And we need to make sure that as we make changes to it that we bring those in in a careful way.”

And Larson says it’s more important that the new system work than it is to meet the November date, which he calls an arbitrary deadline.

“We’re going to make sure that we respect our testing and training processes to make sure that when it does go live that it’s ready for Vermonters and that the people who Vermonters turn to with questions have good training to be able to support them,” said Larson. “So our schedule remains the same but we also want to make sure that the system works before we turn it on.”

Both State and Blue Cross officials say they’ll have much better idea if the website will be able to handle electronic payments by the middle of next week.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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