Vermont Health Connect: a very conditional victory

So the Governor and a full brace of minions came out Monday morning to announce that Vermont Health Connect had met the first of his two deadlines, or milestones, or benchmarks: the implementation of a change of circumstance feature.

This, after VHC was taken offline for the weekend to install upgrades, a move that prompted premature glee among reform opponents like State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann.

Yeah, not so much.

But the declaration of victory, though sounded loud and clear, came with a handful of asterisks. The Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami:

The upgrade, which is still being phased in by the administration, will allow customer service representatives to make changes to consumers’ accounts in an automated way.

“Still being phased in.” Got it. And…

“It means that we now have the capability, the tool, to be able to change your circumstance when things change for your insurance. And the outcome of that, as we get it up and running, will be a much smoother system that has been evading us since we launched,” Shumlin said.

“… as we get it up and running…” Hmm.

Also: on Sunday, Goswami had reported that the upgrade would “begin to implement a key function,” and quoted health care reform chief Lawrence Miller as saying the new feature would remain a work in progress.

“You really want to smoke it out and find out if there’s anything different than expected,” Miller said. “We’ll go slowly at first and do close monitoring of transactions as we do with all significant deployments.”

In light of all that, I have to agree with House Speaker Shap Smith, who told Goswami he would “reserve judgement to see how things work over the next week or so.”

Still, it’s great that the administration finally cleared a hurdle on VHC, no matter how carefully defined. It’s an important step on a long journey to full functionality. If we get to November 1 and achieve Shumlin’s other benchmark with no significant setbacks, then VHC will no longer be an albatross around the necks of the Governor, the Democrats, and the reform advocacy community.

And if Shumlin has any designs on a fourth term, a fully functional Vermont Health Connect is absolutely essential. Without it, he can’t be taken seriously as an administrator or as an agent of change.

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