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

Online Payment Finally Comes To Vermont Health Connect

Zoonar RF
Vermont Health Connect users can now pay monthly premuims online, thanks to a weekend site upgrade. Small businesses must continue to enroll directly through carriers.

Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance exchange, opened last fall, but the site has not functioned as it should. Most notably, the online payment function hasn’t worked, so users have had to pay for insurance through the mail.

But that will now change after a site upgrade over the weekend that allows Vermont Health Connect users to pay monthly premiums online.

Lawrence Miller, Secretary for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, has been working with the Department of Health Access to help get Vermont Health Connect back on track.

“Any Vermonter who is enrolling by March 15th for April 1st coverage will be able to pay online in the normal part of the process, and anybody who has been enrolled will be able to go online and pay their bill that way as well,” Miller said.

Over the weekend a few people enrolling for coverage used the online payment system before it was fully installed. On Monday, there will be training for state and call center workers who are helping people enroll for coverage.

Miller said the upgrade also addressed a large number of issues on the back side of the website that mainly affected the navigators and call center workers, and other small improvements that the average Vermonter wouldn’t notice.

“It’s all driven toward system stability and improved functionality on the back end, really this payment processing is the only big change that Vermonters will see for themselves,” Miller explained.

Late last year, when the problems with the exchange website came to light, rules were changed to allow people to extend their existing coverage through the end of March. Those people will need to sign up for a plan through Vermont Health Connect by March 15th to avoid any potential lapse in coverage.

“And they need to pay by the end of March, which is one of the reasons that getting electronic payment up and running was so important for us,” Miller said.

March 31st is the end of the 2014 enrollment period for Vermont Health Connect, unless a person gets married, has a child, or loses insurance coverage. There is no open enrollment for Medicaid, so anyone who qualifies for that program can sign up at any point during the year.

Vermont mandated businesses with fewer than 50 employees to go through the exchange, and that differs from the federal requirement.  Small businesses were allowed to circumvent the exchange this year and buy plans directly through Blue Cross or MVP. Miller said those businesses will continue to directly enroll through carriers as long as necessary.

“We are going to be working on bringing small businesses up. But we want to be clear that those folks should continue to direct enroll. As we have with this system update, we’re not going to bring it out until it’s been fully tested, fully validated, and is truly ready for prime time,” Miller said. He expects the small business functions will be ready for 2015 enrollment.

“We need to continue to focus on system improvements, bringing on the rest of the features, and doing so in a way that Vermonters experience meaningful improvement, and that our call center staff, navigators and others who have to touch this system, including the carriers, get reliable predictable experiences, time after time. I think we’ve had enough where we’ve said what we’re going to do, we’re clearly in the mode we need to just show what we can do,” Miller said.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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