Tag Archives: Lawrence Miller

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas — UPDATED with more fleas

Hey, you know about the Mylan controversy? Yeah, the company that bought the rights to the EpiPen and then jacked up the price by several gazillion percent? It now charges nearly $500 for a gizmo that probably cost them about three bucks to make.

Well, I’d managed to forget, or suppress, its Vermont connection until I was reminded by recent accounts in VTDigger and the Burlington Free Press. To wit, the Shumlin administration arranged a peculiar land swap in St. Albans to facilitate an expansion of Mylan’s operations here.

A land swap that costs the General Fund about a half million dollars a year.

(That’s about the price tag we “couldn’t afford” to spend on an Ethics Commission. Just sayin’.)

UPDATE: As Auditor Doug Hoffer points out, Mylan is also a beneficiary of the Vermont Employment Growth Initiative (VEGI) program to the tune of $5.7 million. More on this below.

I won’t rehash all the details here; you can check out VTDigger’s 2013 story, which lays it all out in excruciating detail.  I will note one thing before moving on: this turd blossom featured the guy I’m beginning to think of as the Joe Btfsplk of the Shumlin administration.

The idea… was largely the brainchild of Lawrence Miller, the Commerce Secretary.

Mmmyeah, EB-5, the endless Vermont Health Connect reboot, and now Mylan. Quite the resume you’re building, Mr. Miller.

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Shoot the Messenger

As its final months drag onward, the Shumlin administration is remaining true to one of its core principles: Shoot the messenger. We have two prime examples of this time-tested strategery today: a top state official slams a respected media outlet, a move that has backfired big-time in the past; and the administration puts a big fat price tag on transparency.

First, Lawrence Miller, Vermont Health Connect czar, has beef with VTDigger.

[Miller] testified Wednesday in the House and challenged the veracity of a VTDigger story that said the state has been unhappy with its current Vermont Health Connect contractor and is negotiating with another company.

… [Miller said] that any frustration he expressed in emails was a normal part of negotiations.

Digger’s earlier story had quoted emails from a state official expressing dissatisfaction with VHC contractor Optum. Which would be noteworthy, since Optum was supposedly the savior of Vermont Health Connect. Miller pooh-poohed the story’s assertion, saying that a certain amount of “friction” is a normal part of the process.

Maybe that’s true, but here’s the problem. This is the same “Lawrence Miller” who was in charge of the Agency for Commerce and Community Development when it was happily attempting to both promote and regulate the ill-fated EB-5 program. He headed ACCD from 2011 to 2014, when he was tasked with cleaning up the Vermont Health Connect mess.

In other words, Miller has been hip-deep in two of the Shumlin administration’s signature disasters. Is it possible he negotiated Shumlin’s original land deal with jerry Dodge?

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Another nail in Vermont Health Connect’s coffin

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.

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Mr. Miller has a hissy fit

Here’s a new one in Vermont governance: a top state official refusing to “work with” a reporter who covers his beat. Strange but true. And he put it in writing!

Dramatis personae: Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform; and Erin Mansfield, health care reporter for VTDigger. Miller wrote a hot blast of an opinion piece in response to Mansfield’s recent article about the latest wave of problems with Vermont Health Connect, and here’s the opening paragraph:

The most recent exchange story is an extremely slanted piece of journalism. It does not tell the whole story of Vermont Health Connect, accuses me of lying, and creates an inaccurate perception. This particular column follows repeated factual inaccuracies by VTDigger’s health reporter, adding the new feature of character assassination. I give up. I will not work with her anymore.

Digger, for its part, “stands behind the accuracy” of Mansfield’s story.

I don’t know who’s right and wrong here. Maybe she overemphasized the negative, which is often the case in journalism. Non-news is, by its nature, not news. When something works, we don’t write a screaming headline about it.

But Miller’s version doesn’t pass the smell test.

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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.

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Is this the end of Rico?

Well, if this isn’t the mother of all Friday newsdumps.

After 18 months of headaches caused by Vermont Health Connect, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Friday that he’s prepared to replace the online health insurance marketplace if it fails to meet two new deadlines.

(Note: According to VTDigger, Shumlin first made his announcement on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. Credit where it’s due.)

Yeezus. I make a little day trip to New Hampshire, and this is what happens? I may never leave Vermont again.

“This is not an attractive option,” Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, Lawrence Miller, said at the press conference.

Miller added that “bubonic plague can ruin your day, and zombies are bad news.”

In the past I have occasionally been guilty of hyperbole, so it’s understandable if you take this with a grain of salt, but…

This doesn't end well.

This doesn’t end well.

If Vermont Health Connect fails, it is the end of Peter Shumlin’s political career.

It wouldn’t be the last act; he’d still remain governor for another year and a half. But the abandonment of VHC would be a death blow to whatever’s left of his reputation for managerial competence. And trustworthiness. He will have a simple, stark choice: Serve out his term as best he can, step aside with grace and dignity (and hopefully a big show of unity with a consensus candidate for the Democratic nomination)… or go down in a metaphorical burst of tommygun fire.

Mind, all this is contingent on the failure of VHC, which is far from a sure thing. But given its track record (and the Governor’s), today’s announcement has to send shivers down the spines of everyone who’s invested political capital in the Shumlin Growth Fund.

The song goes like this: assurances of success; bumps in the road; conditional assurances of success; postponements; failures; promises to learn lessons and do better; new plans with later deadlines; fresh assurances; lather, rinse, repeat.

We have just gone from “assurances of success” to “conditional assurances.”

The fallback plan, should VHC again fail to meet functionality targets, is a hybrid marketplace: federally supported but state-regulated. It’s not a terrible Plan B, but it would put the lie to every assurance Governor Shumlin has made about Vermont Health Connect since its launch. It would hand the Republicans a huge quantity of ammunition, and it would permanently sink Shumlin’s managerial reputation.

The Governor’s new timeline:

Shumlin said he would only deploy the contingency plan if Vermont Health Connect is unable to automatically process changes in account information by May or if it’s unable to smoothly reenroll users by October. Even then, the state would not adopt the new system until October 2016, in time for the 2017 open-enrollment period.

Oh great. So if VHC isn’t working by October, then we’ll be activating Plan B right in the middle of the next gubernatorial campaign.

And what if anything — at all — goes wrong? It drags on until after the election. If that happens, it may not matter who the Democrats nominate.

If all that happens, Peter Shumlin will not only go down in history as a failure. He’ll also be the guy who squandered a king’s ransom in political capital for his Democratic Party.

Gruber contract officially downsized

One argument the Republicans have made in their desperate effort to fan the flickering flames of Grubermania is that, although Gov. Shumlin cut off Jonathan Gruber’s pay, his contract remained intact and would require a formal rewrite.

Well, mission accomplished, per the Mitchell Family Organ:

State officials released an amended contract with MIT economist Jonathan Gruber Tuesday evening, lowering the maximum amount payable to $280,000.

… Some Republicans had maintained that the original contract required official changes, and said Gruber’s “handshake agreement” with Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, was not sufficient.

The amended contract reflects the change in pay for Gruber.

The full contract can be viewed at the link above.

I’m sure the Republicans will come up with fresh rationales for their obsession. But the contract can no longer be cited as an issue. And if they possess a shred of intellectual honesty, they’ll stop referring to the Gruber contract as a $450,000 deal and adopt the true figure, $280,000.

Ball’s in your court, guys.