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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

House Committee Will Work Off-Session To Assess Vermont Health Connect

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Angela Evancie
/
VPR/file
House Speaker Shap Smith says he needs more evidence before he's convinced that Vermont Health Connect is fixed, and has authorized the House Committee on Health Care to meet several times over the summer and fall.

The Legislature has adjourned for the year. But the work of one House committee isn’t over yet. A panel of lawmakers will meet this summer to determine whether the state should pursue an alternative to Vermont Health Connect.

It was with much fanfare earlier this month that Gov. Peter Shumlinannounced the long-awaited arrival of a new piece of technology at Vermont Health Connect, the troubled health care exchange. Shumlin says the software will allow the state to process changes in customers’ insurance status more quickly. And he says it will alleviate a customer-service backlog that has caused accounting errors, wrongful policy terminations, and in some cases delayed access to care.

But House Speaker Shap Smith says he needs more evidence before he’s convinced the program is fixed. And before sounding the final gavel on the 2015 legislative session, Smith authorized the House Committee on Health Care to meet several times over the summer and fall.

“The thought was that we would have the committee meet to understand whether the change-of-circumstances implementation had been successful, and to also look at potential alternatives for our current exchange if we thought it was necessary,” Smith says.

Smith will meet with the commissioner of the department that oversees Vermont Health Connect next week for a briefing on the progress with the software fixes. Smith says he won’t rely solely on administration officials to make his assessment.

"The thought was that we would have the committee meet to understand whether the change-of-circumstances implementation had been successful, and to also look at potential alternatives for our current exchange if we thought it was necessary." - House Speaker Shap Smith

“It’s really important for me as well to hear from Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP to hear from their perspective how things are going,” Smith says.

The 11-member Health Care Committee also will hear from administration officials, including Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller. Smith says the committee’s agenda will seek to answer a few key questions.

“One, is it working? Two, if it isn’t working, what are the alternatives? And three, how can we make sure that it’s financially sustainable?” Smith says.

Hineburg Rep. Bill Lippert, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Health Care, says he’s waiting for a key decision from the U.S. Supreme Court before convening the meetings. A decision in a case known as King vs. Burwell will determine whether federal subsidies are available to state’s using the federal version of the exchange. And Lippert says it’s premature to explore alternatives until lawmakers know the answer to that question.

"I think [the October deadline for change-of-circumstance backlogs] remains an important target as we ... determine whether we can move forward with the current exchange structure." - Bill Lippert, House health care committee chairman

Lippert says success with the change-of-circumstance technology isn’t the only hurdle Vermont Health Connect will have to clear during the off-session. He says the program also needs to have automated renewal functions in place by October. And he says the change-of-circumstance backlog, which now stands at more than 8,000 customers, has to be down to zero by October.

“I think that remains an important target as we move forward and try to determine whether we can move forward with the current exchange structure,” Lippert says.

The committee has not yet set a date for its first summer meeting. 

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