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

Gov. Shumlin Publicly Reprimands Health Access Commissioner

AP/ Toby Talbot
Commissioner Mark Larson of the Department of Vermont Health Access testifies at the Statehouse on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 in Montpelier.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly reprimanded a key member of his health care team. The governor says he is seriously disappointed that Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson showed a “lapse of judgment” for not being more forthright with lawmakers regarding a security breach at the state’s new health care exchange.

But the governor says he doesn’t think Larson should resign over this incident.At a meeting of the House Health Care committee several weeks ago, Larson was asked if he was aware of any security breaches at Vermont Health Connect, the state’s new health care exchange.

Larson said the answer was no, but he failed to mention that he was aware of an incident that occurred in the middle of October. It’s a case where an individual had access to another person’s financial and Social Security information because the two individuals had the same user name at the exchange.

On Monday, Larson apologized for not being more forthcoming about this problem.

"Larson showed a lapse in judgment for not being more forthright with lawmakers." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

“During that testimony I should have continued my testimony to provide information about that one isolated incident where private information was viewed by two Vermont Health Connect users,” said Larson. “And to apologize for the fact that I did not do that.”

Larson said he didn’t mention the incident because he didn’t view it as “a security breach.”

“When people think about breaches they think about somebody unauthorized breaking into the system or the release of some large amount of information that’s made available to the public or to unauthorized individuals,” said Larson. “This situation was very different than those. It was unique to two specific users.”

Larson said the problem has been solved and he wants Vermonters to know that their information at Vermont Health Connect is secure.

In a written statement, the Governor said that while he doesn’t think Larson intentionally misled lawmakers, he feels it is “unacceptable to be anything less than fully cooperative and transparent with Vermonters and their elected representatives in the Legislature.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Shap Smith said the incident was “unacceptable.”

“Vermonters expect that their public officials will testify accurately and forthrightly in committee,” said Smith. “And when that doesn’t happen particularly when it’s a public official I consider it to be a real breach of trust with Vermonters.”

And Smith says the incident could undermine Larson’s ability to deal effectively with the Legislature in the future:

“He has longstanding relationships with many of them to rebuild that and communicate with them effectively and frequently to let them know what’s happening,” said Smith.

The governor didn’t ask Larson to resign because Shumlin says he’s confident that Larson will take steps to remedy this situation and will work to regain the trust of the Legislature.

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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