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Shumlin Hopeful Health Exchange Will Be Ready For Open Enrollment

Taylor Dobbs
With open enrollment just a few days away, is the state's health exchange website ready to go back online?

State employees and private contractors have been working for the last month to repair the state’s dysfunctional online health insurance exchange. And while the site will be back online by Saturday, officials say the project is still far from perfect.

Head over to the Vermont Health Connect website today, and you’ll see the same "down for maintenance" banner that’s greeted visitors since the site was taken offline for repairs in the middle of September.

But Secretary of Human Services Harry Chen says the site will be open for business by Saturday, when Vermont Health Connect customers are allowed to begin shopping for next year’s insurance policies.

“So I can say with certainty that we are ready for an open enrollment,” Chen says.

That doesn’t mean problems for the troubled program are over. Continuing technology struggles will force the state to rely on time-consuming, and costly manual workarounds for functions that were supposed to be automated.

"I've been disappointed enough times that I want to be very careful not to over-promise. But ... I am hopeful that we're getting it right. We're going to bring it up Saturday." - Gov, Peter Shumlin

And while top officials say they’re convinced they’ll be able to get people insured, Gov. Peter Shumlin doesn’t sound supremely confident the newest version of this site will be error-free.

“I’ve been disappointed enough times that I want to be very careful not to overpromise,” Shumlin says. “But … I am hopeful that we’re getting it right. We’re going to bring it up Saturday.”

Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, says it’ll likely be months before the site is functioning as originally envisioned.

“But until the work is completed, this will still not be what Vermonters deserve, frankly,” Miller says. “And we are working diligently to accomplish that.”

Top Republicans have called on the state to abandon the state exchange, and instead use the one being operated by the federal government.

“The next enrollment period is just days away, and there has been no improvement to the system, and the chaos and mismanagement continues,” says House Minority Leader Don Turner. “We believe the Vermonters who have been forced into this failed  system … have a right to the benefits, lower cost and basic customer service they have been promised by the federal Affordable Care Act.”

But Miller says moving to the federal exchange would only prolong customer problems, and add to overall costs.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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