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

Governor Considers New Plan B For Businesses On Health Exchange

The Shumlin Administration is preparing another contingency plan for small businesses if the online payment system on the state’s new health care exchange isn’t fully functioning by the end of this month.

The online payment system has been a major problem since Vermont Health Connect was formally launched on Oct. 1, and it still isn’t working.

Because small businesses can’t purchase their coverage electronically, Gov. Peter Shumlin last month offered several options to these businesses.

They could extend their current coverage for the first three months of 2014, or they could bypass the exchange altogether and purchase their coverage directly from the insurance companies, Blue Cross and MVP.

The insurance companies said this week that the online payment system must be working by the end of this month if they’re going to be able to enroll those businesses that extended their coverage.

Otherwise they said the administration would have to develop another contingency plan.

The governor says he agrees with this assessment and that the online payment system is currently being tested.

“The problem with testing is sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. So I am in agreement with the assessment of Blue Cross that if it works we will all be happy,” said Shumlin. “And if it doesn’t we’ll have a contingency plan in place to ensure that small business doesn’t have interrupted coverage just as I did with individuals.”

Shumlin says the “most logical” contingency is to reopen the option of allowing these companies to buy coverage directly from the insurance companies.

“If there is a contingency needed we’re going to deploy it,” said Shumlin. “Meanwhile, the problems with testing these complex website build-outs is it might work beautifully on Sunday night and it might not.”

Shumlin said he is very unhappy that the exchange isn’t working the way it was designed to and that he will seek the maximum penalties from the lead contractor of the project. Under the state’s contract, these penalties are capped at $5 million.