Vermont temporarily shuts down health exchange

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Vermont is temporarily shutting down its health insurance exchange to complete improvements needed for the next open enrollment period that begins in November.

The decision came after consultations with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Optum, the state’s new IT vendor for the exchange, revealed that pulling the site offline while changes were made was the best plan of action.

“As all Vermonters know, we’ve had disappointment after disappointment with the Vermont Health Connect website,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement. “I have been very frustrated that the website remains incomplete. Bringing down the site now to make improvements with our new partner Optum is the best choice to deliver a well-functioning, secure website for customers by the open enrollment period that begins November 15.”

Vermont was one of the 15 states that decided to build its own exchange instead of adopting the federal government’s model. The state saw high enrollment numbers, but the site lacked the functionality that state leaders had hoped for.

As a result, the state brought in Optum to run the exchange and update it technologically to what state leaders initially envisioned when the project was launched.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott issued a statement saying the shutdown was long overdue. He urged the administration to use the time to reassess the options.

“As I have said many times over the last year, it’s my belief we should transition to the much simpler and fully functional federal exchange that 27 other states have successfully used, and that seven more are working with in partnership with the government,” Scott said. “I want the exchange to work. But I think it’s time to face reality and admit we need to stop trying to ‘get it right’ with Vermont Health Connect and do the right thing for Vermonters.”

Optum is already working with Vermont Health Connect to make needed improvements, and the state expects the website will be restored to full, improved operation before the start of open enrollment, state leaders said.

While the site is down, enrollees will still be covered and able to complete payment by mail and additional payment options along with being able to contact Vermont Health Connect’s call center.

Officials emphasized that this decision was not motivated by discovery of any compromise of confidential consumer information but said the state continually assesses security and other operational needs.

They added that taking the site down to complete much-needed improvements and enhance security protocols prior to open enrollment is the right course, particularly in light of recent highly publicized breaches of other sites.

“Establishing this online health insurance network has been challenging from the start, to say the least,” said Lawrence Miller, the governor’s senior advisor and chief of health care reform. “It is critical that we take advantage of this period of relatively low-volume use to improve Vermont Health Connect’s operations, technology and security, and turn around the difficulties Vermonters have experienced with our website.”

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