The vultures are circling. The wolves are howling. The diminished corpus of Vermont Health Connect is crawling across a pitiless landscape; every time an oasis appears, it turns out to be a mirage.
Things aren’t lookin’ good.
I’ve been a strong supporter of Governor Shumlin’s health care reform plan — hopefully as a first step toward single payer, or at least universal coverage of some kind. I have bought and consumed every confident reassurance ever issued by the Governor and his minions. I have, unfairly in retrospect, mocked his critics as mindless partisans. I have allowed my hope to be renewed by fresh reassurances, most recently last fall, when the administration announced that VHC had met its performance benchmarks.
Today, not so much. Today I’ve turned a corner. I remain hopeful, but the confidence is gone.
The last straw was yesterday’s article by VTDigger’s Erin Mansfield, which began like this:
An independent expert on health care strategy advised the state to spend as little money as possible on Vermont Health Connect technology in the immediate future and instead use resources to evaluate alternatives to the exchange.
Frank Petrus, a senior managing partner at Connecticut-based Gartner Inc., told lawmakers the state should stop spending money to build new Vermont Health Connect technology, try to leverage investments it has already made, and commission a study that would take three to four months.
Basically, he wants to put VHC into hospice care. Stop trying to fix it, just help it “limp along a little while longer.”
Ugh. Yeesh. Aaaaaarrrrrgh.
This isn’t coming from a free-market ideologue, but a guy with unimpeachable bona fides:
Gartner has consulted for several state health exchanges, including Vermont Health Connect, and has a great deal of experience in public sector human services.
Republicans are jumping on this as an argument for immediate termination of VHC and connection to the federal exchange. Petrus cautions that things aren’t so simple, that the next step requires careful consideration and study. But he’s not talking about making VHC work; he’s talking about “remediation” and coming up with a new plan to move forward in, say, several months’ time.
Side note: i hope that health care chief Lawrence Miller has had second thoughts about his recent hot blast at Mansfield for “slanted journalism” full of “factual inaccuracies” that “creates an inaccurate perception,” and his conclusion that “I will not work with her anymore.”
Seems like Mansfield’s reporting was closer to the truth than Miller was inclined to admit.
Petrus’ assessment comes on the heels of warnings from two very different sources: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, and Vermont Legal Aid. The former wants an independent review of VHC, and the latter is fielding scores of complaints:
“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.”
Since I am, by self-definition, a Vermont Political Observer, let’s get to the politics of the situation.
For the Republicans, it’s Christmas in February. For the Democrats, it’s bad. Really bad. Vermont Health Connect will go a long way toward defining the legacy of the Shumlin years. To some extent that’s unfair; but Shumlin himself is largely responsible for the situation. He has issued so many reassurances, so many denials of trouble, so many sunny forecasts, that he has lashed himself to the mast of the Good Ship Vermont Health Connect. It if ends up hitting the rocks, he’ll be on the record as captain.
For the rest of the Democrats, well, this will remain an open issue for most of 2016 at least. As Petrus says, you can’t just pull the plug and walk away. It takes time, and it takes a plan.
Look forward to the months ahead, fellow liberals. The Democrats will be playing defense, and the Republicans will be freely firing their rhetorical artillery. The longer this goes on, the better Phil Scott’s brand of sober, unimaginative, guy-next-door style is going to look. Sue Minter is going to be tarred, fairly or unfairly, by her association with the Shumlin administration. Matt Dunne’s tech-expert assurances that in his administration “the websites will work” may be completely accurate, but they will sound awfully hollow after years of VHC failure under Democratic management.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe Lawrence Miller will pull a rabbit out of his hat. If so, then the script will flip. For now, the Republicans have a big fat opportunity that’s been crafted, as if to their specifications, by the Shumlin administration itself.