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

Technical Problems with Vermont Health Connect Becoming A Political Issue

During the 2012 session, lawmakers gave their approval to Act 171, a law that created the state’s new health care exchange. The law also mandated that all individuals and, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, use the exchange if they want to purchase insurance beginning in January.

Tucked away at the end of the 161 page law, is a provision that allows individuals to keep their current coverage if “the exchange is not operational by January 1st, 2014,” and if enrollment in the exchange is not possible through another mechanism, including “paper enrollment.”

House Minority Leader Don Turner says the current technical problems with the exchange are unacceptable and he wants the Governor to invoke the waiver provision if the system isn’t fully operational by December 1st.

“The law is the law. It was passed by the majority. It’s the law. The fortunate thing that we fought very hard for over the last 3 years was a safety net and it is in the law,” said Turner. “So we’re not asking to change the law, we’re not asking to do anything with the law, except for implement a portion of it that is there if needed.”

My job as Governor is to make the website work - Gov. Peter Shumlin

Governor Peter Shumlin readily admits that the website has encountered some key technical problems – for instance – it’s not possible, at this time, to pay for policies online.

Shumlin says delaying implementation isn’t the answer and he’s vowed to fix the problems.

“My job as Governor is to make the website work,” said Shumlin. “We’re working 24/ 7 to make that happen. It’s better today than it was 3 weeks ago. We expect to make further progress going forward.”

Shumlin promises, one way or another, that people will be able to enroll on Vermont Health Connect in a timely manner.

“I’ll assure you that as Governor my job is to hammer on the technology companies that made the promises that this thing would work, to get it to work number one,” said Shumlin. “And, number two, if we fail, to have a back up plan and I will have all of that accomplished that’s my job.”

It’s estimated that between 80 and 100 thousand people will want to purchase coverage through the exchange by the end of the year. Turner says that’s why he picked the December first date to implement the so called “safety net”.

“We said December first because December first if we don’t have a majority of the people on there’s no way it can happen then through December and have everyone that they’ve been talking about,” said Turner.

State officials are currently testing the program that allows individuals to pay for their coverage online and they hope to have a better sense of its operational capability 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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