Shumlin temporarily takes Vermont Health Connect website offline

During a press release at the Vermont Health Connect (VHC) headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 16, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that the Vermont Health Connect website will be shut down temporarily while Optum works out the kinks.  The website is slated to be up and running by the beginning of the next open enrollment period in November.
“As all Vermonters know, we’ve had disappointment after disappointment with the Vermont Health Connect website,” said Shumlin. “I have been very frustrated that the website remains incomplete. Bringing down the site now to make improvements with our new partner Optum is the best choice to deliver a well-functioning, secure website for customers by the open enrollment period that begins November 15.”
While the website is offline, enrolled Vermonters will still be covered, and can make payments by mail and “additional payment options.” Whether or not the temporary elimination of the website will yield any positive change in the ability to deliver coverage and services has yet to be determined.  The call center will be up and running, and the Shumlin administration noted Optum’s “substantial experience” in assisting other states with increased call support.
Human Services Sec. Harry Chen and Lawrence Miller, the Governor’s Senior Advisor and Chief of Health Care Reform, said consumers are keenly aware of the VHC website problems that have complicated enrollment.  It was Chen and Miller who consulted with federal partners at the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and subsequently recommended that the governor shut down the website to finish improvements. Shumlin made the order on Monday night.
The Governor also announced that he is removing Vermont Health Connect oversight from the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) to better align leadership of the VHC project across departments and agencies, at Chen’s recommendation. Chen will institute a leadership structure that requires all department and agency resources responsible for portions of VHC to report through a single chain of command. The governor’s senior advisor Lawrence Miller will assume operational leadership of VHC, reporting directly to Chen and the governor. Meanwhile, Commissioner Mark Larson will continue to run DVHA’s many other programs and responsibilities, and will remain a resource to VHC under the new leadership structure.
Will the two month work period be enough? Shortly after Shumlin delivered the news, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott issued his own statement. He highlighted the contrast between the $8 million New Hampshire has spent on their federal exchange system versus the $70 million spent on the health care exchange here in Vermont. Scott concluded, “I want the exchange to work. But I think it’s time to face reality and admit we need to stop trying to ‘get it right’ with Vermont Health Connect and do the right thing for Vermonters.”
If you have a story to share about your experience with VHC, please email it to sadie@windridgepublishing.com.