Just what we needed: More bad news on Vermont Health Connect

The headline says it all, thanks to Erin Mansfield of VTDigger:


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.


6 thoughts on “Just what we needed: More bad news on Vermont Health Connect

  1. Brooke Paige

    The only individuals who acquired healthcare as a result of VHC and the Green Mountain Care Board are those who became eligible for Medicaid as a result of relaxed income requirements. The expansion of the Medicaid pool could have been accomplished without putting the citizenry through the torture we have been subjected to over the past three years (not to mention the $200,000,000 wasted on the failed web site and the $50,000,000 spent on the hapless “care board”). This is the work of Peter Shumlin, Larry Miller and Al Gobeille, and the blame should be plainly placed squarely on their heads..

  2. newzjunqie

    This is not news. All who have been watching this drama knew all along, only news–now all now forced to concede what everyone watching ongoing theatrics could plainly see. Hoffer has already starred in the trailer. Simply waiting for chase scene and trainwreck. And have come to know if their lips are moving–it means only one thing–they’re lying.

    And we still have abject fools declaring going to fed-exchange would be a disaster???

    Soo, whats’s new here? Every so-called “Fix” recited always include tell-tale varying “qualifiers”. The straight-shooters, who have learned honesty is best policy can easily see through the shape-shiftiness of our spectacularly failed governor and accomplices in resultant rotten regime as he continues arrogance-inspired delusional-pipedreams such as fairy tale of “leading the nation” in___ (fill blank).

    No need to waste ‘film’ photographing each wea culpa, stock footage will do, now-familiar somber pressers are predictable. All appear on stage flanking Shummy, staring at feet, wearing phony “serious faces”. Surprise! Cue the violin, yet another announcement of failure. Who cares? All highly paid to continue the ritual shoulder-shrugging and feed tax-payer funds into the bonfire.

    “Success” for the gang-that-can’t-shoot-straight is always in comfortably cloaked in couched terms. And who do not have any experience in their field. Bureaucrats like Miller-a mere showboat & Gobielle-a restrauteur who I could picture as working-manager serving fries at any McDonalds. Only skill set necessary; suit-up, walk & talk, bow, genuflect & utter “yes governor”.

    Inherently dishonest & disingenuous failure, Shummy surrounds self with these empty suits, highly paid sycophants who mirror own personality-disordered mentality. Ability to lie like a rug #1 job qualification, bonus points (plaque & trophy) for keeping straight-face, mouth-shut aiding & abetting while dragging lies from election cycle to election cycle. Dutifully showing up for work each day to ruin VTs economy, wasting the time of & making extremely difficult the lives of all who must use the maddening nightmare aka VHC. The tales of woe could fill many NY-phonebook sized annals.

    As VTers become outraged when the gang is caught in these acts of negligence, then come the group-signed defensive op-ed to deny all charges with fever-pitch faux poutrage & of course the obligatory selfrighteous indignation befitting a lackey with low-mid six-figure compensation package. And as other state workers are attacked, villainized & bullied to take pay cuts to foot bill for this large VHC entourage including staffers, and their neverending waste and mismanagement. It’s a way of life for the man and how he rolls.

    How could we be so foolish, myself included here. Support continued until somewhere in second term. Was then personally certain we all had been had due to the missed date(s) to produce single-payer plan. Prior Hsio figures & failure to achieve all-payer was writing on the wall. Cynthia Browings’ brave court action to force Shummy into compliance with date(s) in statute displayed plainly for all to see–governor has no clothes.

    We need to innovate criminal justice in VT. Bring back the days of putting ALL criminals, heroin dealers whether addicts or not, and the VT specialty-embezzlement-including aforementioned neckties, in stocks. And, they get to wear their suits-1st offense. 2nd offense, local or state chain gang-no town or state highway maintenance dept needed-including janitorial for all public buildings. Scubbing stinky toilets, so unfun. 3rd offense and the bigger thieveries–running out of state on rail. Would end crime in VT. Hey-we could finally lead the nation in something!

  3. NanuqFC

    The only individuals who acquired healthcare as a result of VHC and the Green Mountain Care Board are those who became eligible for Medicaid as a result of relaxed income requirements.

    That’s not true, Mr. Paige. When my wife aged into Medicare, I would have had zero insurance, except for Vermont Health Connect. And the policy I was able to get cost less and had better benefits than the crummy retirees healthcare policy we had from her former employer.

    I get it, that’s one exception. But I’ll bet that there are lots of others out there in situations like mine.

  4. ApacheTrout

    Brooke, are you absolving CGI, the creator of the database and the website, of any blame? Seems to me that this is a classic example of a private, for-profit company making hay at the public’s expense. Surely, poor oversight plays an important role, but as the old saying goes, it takes two to tango.

    1. Brooke Paige

      ApacheTrout – I hold NO ONE blameless in this “clusterf__k” – however it was the Shumlin administration’s responsibility to control what was going on and to only pay vendors for work completed satisfactorily. When it was obvious that CGI (and now Exeter Group) could not fulfill their contractual obligations, payments should not have been made and those who issued the performance bonds on the work should have been called upon to reimburse the state ! If the administration failed to require bonds then heads should roll (and procurement personnel fired !)

      NanuqFc – I am glad that the VHC deal worked out for you and your spouse, you are the first I have heard from who benefitted from the program, however every other person I have heard from (including myself and my wife) have had the opposite experiences – substantial premium increases, higher deductibles, higher co-pays and in many cases paying for insurance, only to discover they had no coverage when they needed care ! You are fortunate – “even a stopped clock gets it right twice a day.”

      All the Best,

  5. Walter Carpenter

    These exchanges are not workable in whatever guise they are housed in — VHC or otherwise. They were not meant to be and never will be no matter how hard we try to get it right here. Perhaps, the Shumlin administration expected too much out of them. I know people that have had good experiences and others who are caught in the nightmare, but I know others in other states facing the same thing. To say that this is the best we could do in America is saying just how corrupt this nation really is now.


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