The National Football League, the unstoppable beast of modern sports, is having a bad time of it. Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owners, and players are under scrutiny for what appears to be an epidemic of bad behavior toward women and children, and a casual attitude toward violent offenders.
In actual fact, there are no more or fewer incidents than there have ever been. The problem is the league’s hypocrisy, backtracking, dishonesty, and double-dealing. Or, as we learned from the Watergate scandal — well, we should have learned it — it’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cover-up. If the NFL had gotten out in front and taken plausibly strong action, its current PR crisis would never have happened.
Which brings me to Vermont Health Connect, our long-troubled and (temporarily?) sidelined health care exchange. And particularly the need for a heavy dose of the best disinfectant: sunshine.
To begin with the takeaway: Please, let there be no more surprises. If there are unrevealed problems, call a news conference ASAP and get all the bad stuff out in the open at once. No more dribs and drabs, no more Friday afternoon newsdumps; just a public accounting for everything. Take heed of the NFL’s tribulations, made worse every time new information comes out or a prominent figure sticks his foot in his mouth.
Maybe there’s no bad news left. Maybe we know it all. That would be great, if true. But the Administration’s recent track record doesn’t fill me with confidence.
Go back, first of all, to the Friday afternoon newsdump to end all Friday afternoon newsdumps: the release of the Optum report detailing serious problems with the state’s oversight of the VHC website’s construction. Not problems with the technology or software; but serious management shortcomings by Shumlin Administration officials. The report was released the Friday before Labor Day, so maybe you missed it.
At the time, the words of responsible officials were not reassuring. Health care reform chief Lawurence Miller said the Optum report would help chart “the best way forward,” which seemed to preclude any accounting for past maladministration. And Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, who has since been sidelined from VHC oversight, allowed as to how his takeaway from the report was that “we have worked hard with our vendor partners.”
Well, yeah, hard. But not effectively.
On September 15 came the temporary VHC shutdown. It was first announced as a way to streamline repairs and upgrades in advance of the next open enrollment period. It made sense, and I praised it at the time: stop futzing around, get it fixed, and set the stage for the single-payer debate.
Since then, a couple things have happened that cast doubt on my sunny interpretation. A few days later, VTDigger’s Morgan True reported that the VHC shutdown had as much to do with a site-security crisis as with a sudden onset of managerial diligence.
Over the summer the federal government provided a timeline for reducing security risks, which expired 10 days ago…
Miller and Harry Chen, the secretary of the Agency of Human Services, decided to take down the website last weekend because the state was unable to meet a Sept. 8 federal deadline for security controls; the determination was not the result of a security breach or a specific threat.
“Rather than asking for more time, we decided to disconnect from the federal hub,” Miller said.
Miller could not rule out the possibility that the feds might have ordered a VHC shutdown if the state had failed to act.
Which puts quite a different complexion on the shutdown. And Miller didn’t reassure much when, speaking about security issues, he had trouble with verb tenses:
… it needs to be a high priority; it needed to be a higher priority than it was.
A curiously passive tone, methinks.
The very next day, we learned that top state lawmakers were displeased that they learned of the VHC shutdown through the media. Sen. Ginny Lyons, chair of the Senate Health Care Oversight Committee, said “We’re legislators, so we need to know.” Miller’s response? Officials kept it quiet for security reasons.
“The nature of the announcement was also an abundance of caution. Security advisers say when you’re going to do something for security reasons you do not telegraph that ahead of time.”
Uh, sorry, but no.
The federal government has crafted ways to share top-secret information about things like war, terrorism, and intelligence with appropriate members of Congress. I think Shumlin’s people could have passed a quiet word to, say, legislative leadership and the chairs of the health care committees. I think those people could have been trusted to keep a secret, for a couple of days, for good reason.
Miller’s explanation, of course, implies that lawmakers cannot be trusted. I think if I were Ginny Lyons or Mike Fisher, I’d be insulted by that.
And next winter, when Shumlin starts the push for single-payer, he’s going to need the support, good will, and trust of those leaders. Well, Miller as much as said he didn’t trust them.
I sincerely hope we’ve emptied out the Pandora’s Box of VHC. If there are still some dark, unexamined corners and crevices, then I implore the Administration to throw open the lid and let the sun shine in.