The headline says it all, thanks to Erin Mansfield of VTDigger:
VERMONT HEALTH CONNECT IS GOING BACKWARD, STAKEHOLDERS SAY
The “stakeholders” are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid, an unlikely pairing to be sure. BCBS is calling for an independent review of the troubled health care exchange, and Legal Aid is fielding scores of complaints from “frustrated consumers.”
“We’re going backwards,” said Trinka Kerr, the chief health care advocate for Vermont Legal Aid. “Towards the end of last year, we were making progress. You could get things straightened out relatively quickly, and now things are more complicated than they used to be.”
Some of Governor Shumlin’s high-profile declarations of victory are now looking inoperative. The “change of circumstance” function, which was supposed to be a benchmark for VHC, had to be taken off line because it simply wasn’t ready to handle the workload. And as a result, the backlog is back!
Yes, VHC has a backlog of change orders numbering about 4,000. To put that number in perspective, VHC has a total of 33,000 customers who buy individual policies through the website.
Now, I stopped being good at math in about the seventh grade, but to me that looks like the backlog amounts to 12 percent of all customers served. Which is, in a word, dreadful.
And here’s more good news from BCBS:
“(Vermont Health Connect) customers call much more frequently, with more urgent concerns, than customers in any of our other lines of business … despite the fact that the (VHC) call center is the customer’s primary point of contact for many issues,” Blue Cross wrote in a presentation.
And in the “collateral damage” department, top lawmakers say they first heard about VHC’s problems from media reports — not from the Shumlin administration.
Think they’re feeling a tiny bit burned?
How bad is this? I’ll tell you how bad.
If Vermont Health Connect can’t be salvaged, it will be a permanent stain on Shumlin’s legacy and a huge albatross around the Democrats’ necks in the coming campaign. To some degree this is unfair; Shumlin has made substantial progress in getting health care coverage to more Vermonters, and exchanges like VHC have been headaches just about everywhere they’ve been tried.
But Shumlin himself has staked his reputation to VHC. He has, over and over again, trumpeted its successes and downplayed its failures. For years, he’s been saying that success is just around the corner. Starting with “nothing-burger” way back in the fall of 2013.
The Republicans are going to be all over this like hyenas on a carcass. And well they should. Shumlin’s reassurances are sounding awfully hollow this morning. If he comes out today and says “Don’t worry, we can fix this,” well, nobody should believe a word he says until his actions start matching his words.
One more thing. I really hope the Governor doesn’t come out and say, as he so often has said, “No one feels worse about this than I do.” Because that is military-grade bullshit. There are a lot of people who feel worse than Peter Shumlin does. Just to name a few: single-payer activists like Deb Richter, the Progressive Party (that endorsed Shumlin three times in hopes of getting single-payer), and all the people who’ve been flailing around in VHC or have to interface with it. When the Governor tries to make himself the #1 victim, all he does is further alienate all the people who’ve been disappointed and/or frustrated by his chosen system.