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Vermont Official Denies Incendiary Claim In Newsweek Story

An incendiary allegation at the heart of a Newsweek story on Vermont’s health insurance exchange claims that contractors willfully deceived state officials about the readiness of the new website.

But Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson says he doesn’t believe the alleged incident is “based in any truth or evidence.”

The story, written by reporter Lynnley Browning, offers a damning critique of the state’s new health insurance exchange. And while the bulk of the story summarizes a host of technological missteps previously reported by Vermont media, the piece opens with a revelation of willful deceit that, if true, could reframe the narrative around Vermont Health Connect.

Browning opens her story with a detailed scene from last July, in which a room full of state employees are watching what they believe is a “live interface” between Vermont’s health care exchange website and a federal data hub.

In fact the demonstration, Browning reports, was a deception, manufactured by CGI workers to make officials at the Department of Vermont Health Access believe that the website was on track for a successful Oct. 1 launch.

Evidence for Browning’s reporting comes from a single unnamed source who, according to Browning, was “familiar with the event who decline to be named.”

But Larson says he believes it’s Browning’s story that’s fabrication, not the website demonstration she wrote about.

Larson says the demonstration by CGI for state workers occurred in Winooski on July 26.

“And we did test our connection with the federal data hub. And it was successful,” Larson says. “While it creates an intriguing little story that it was fake, I know of no information to support the story.”

Larson says the state has secured a certificate from the federal government proving that its connection with the federal data hub is functional and secure. And he says that “live interface” has facilitated the receipt of federal subsidies for the thousands of Vermonters who have managed to sign up for insurance through Vermont Health Connect.

Asked if he could say unequivocally that representations made in Browning’s story about the website demonstration are false, Larson offered the following:

“I do not believe that the accusation that the July 26 test was faked is based in any truth or evidence.”

You can read the Newsweek story here.

Updated Feb. 7, 6:10 p.m. to reflect comments from commissioner Mark Larson.