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Vermont's Health Exchange Site Is Offline For Repairs

Taylor Dobbs
From left, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of Human Services Harry Chen and Lawrence Miller, Shumlin's senior advisor on health care. Mark Larson (background, red tie) is no longer in control of Vermont Health Connect.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Tuesday that his administration has made the decision to take the Vermont Health Connect website offline for weeks to make repairs, and oversight for the project has shifted.

Shumlin said he made the decision with the hopes of ensuring a smooth open enrollment period starting in November. Open enrollment is the time when new customers can purchase health care through the exchange for the coming year.

“In order to maximize the progress, to complete both the operational, technical, security and performance improvements to the website,” Shumlin said, “we’ve made the decision to temporarily take down the VHC website to implement the necessary improvements and have a well-functioning website on November 15.”

As a result, it’s likely that one year after the official launch of Vermont Health Connect on October 1, the state will not have an operational online health care exchange. 

Harry Chen, the newly-named commissioner of the Agency of Human Services, said Tuesday that it was a difficult decision, but he was confident in his recommendation to the governor to take the site offline. 

“If we keep doing the same thing we’re doing, we’re going to get the same result,” Chen said.  “Understanding the challenge of doing it while you’re still, so to speak, fixing the car while you’re driving it, I felt that the best way to get the job done the quickest and the most effectively was to work with our new contractor [Optum] and get all these things out of the way and done while we have the opportunity to do it effectively in a more rapid fashion.”

"If we keep doing the same thing we're doing, we're going to get the same result." - Harry Chen, Secretary of Human Services

At a news conference announcing the decision, officials repeatedly cited security concerns as part of the rationale for taking Vermont Health Connect offline, but they insisted that the move was preemptive and not a response to a security breach.

Shumlin said the move should not affect the coverage Vermonters have through the exchange – only how they interact with Vermont Health Connect. 

“They will use the call center as the way to access their coverage,” Shumlin said. “They’ll be able to complete payments by mail, utilize the call center for the services that the website was intended to serve. And obviously, we’re going to be working very hard to ensure that the call center meets anyone’s needs going forward.”

He said that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was aware of the extended downtime and “we’re in agreement that this was the right thing to do." 

Shumlin also announced Tuesday that the Department of Vermont Health Access has been stripped of its role overseeing the development of Vermont Health Connect. 

“My senior advisor, Lawrence Miller, on health care, will assume full operational lead of Vermont Health Connect, reporting directly to secretary Chen, who reports directly to me,” Shumlin said. “Meanwhile, Commissioner Mark Larson will continue to run DVHA and the many other programs and responsibilities that remain under DVHA’s responsibility.”

Chen also announced a new leadership group for Vermont Health Connect.
Robert Skowronski, a health information technology expert, will take over as “deputy commissioner to oversee project development at VHC,” Chen said, and David Martini from the Department of Finance and Management “is now leading Vermont Health Connect’s day-to-day operation.”

Updated 11:35 a.m. with information about the new leadership group. 

This story was originally published with the headline 'They Will Use The Call Center': Shumlin Takes Health Connect Offline