State won’t dump health website contractor
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | January 11,2014
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday that Vermont will stick with its main health exchange website contractor, despite reports that the federal government is set to replace the same contractor working on the federal government’s troubled site.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the Obama administration will replace CGI after a disappointing rollout of the federal exchange site, HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states. According to the Post, Accenture will sign a contract with the federal government to continue work on the site.
The Shumlin administration also hired CGI to create the state’s exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect. Vermont is one of 14 states to design its own site and one of six states to choose CGI as its contractor.
Vermont’s $84 million contract with CGI expires at the end of the year.
The federal site experienced failures immediately upon its Oct. 1 launch. The Post reported Friday that CGI’s current federal contract expires in late February and a new one-year deal worth about $90 million will be signed with Accenture.
Vermont Health Connect experienced similar technological glitches.
Most users were unable to register and select health insurance plans on the federally mandated exchange after it went live. Access was improved after the first several weeks for individuals, but small businesses with 50 or fewer or employees are still unable to enroll in health care plans directly through the site.
The online payment system is also still not functioning. Premiums for those who have signed up through the Vermont exchange are being invoiced on paper and must be paid by check.
Vermont is the only state to mandate health insurance coverage for individuals and small businesses on the exchange.
Despite the challenges, Shumlin said Friday he plans to stick with CGI as it continues work to improve the site, and not bring in a new firm.
“Right now, we have been testing key pieces that will get our exchange where it needs to be to help small businesses sign up and to be able to pay electronically,” the governor said in an interview.
“My focus — my sole focus right now — is working with CGI and our partners to have them get that right,” he said. “It’s taken them too long already, and my job is to keep the pedal to the metal.”
Shumlin did not commit to sticking with CGI forever, though.
“I didn’t say that,” he said. “I said that my focus really has to be getting the pieces that we have been testing working.”
Dumping CGI now would not be best for the state, according to Shumlin.
“When you’re in the build of a complex technology project and you have contracted for a product that needs to be delivered, it’s usually not in your best interest when you get 80 percent of the way to bring in a new contractor,” he said.
Still, the governor said his team did consider that option.
“When we looked at the disappointing rollout in early October we looked at all the options and felt that it was in our best interest to do what we’ve been doing, which is to work together with a contractor that has disappointed us and try to get the product that they’re asking us to pay for,” Shumlin said.
He said his administration is continuing to work with CGI officials, but the relationship has been strained at times.
“We spent a lot of time with them, working together to try to get this right,” Shumlin said. “There’s been days where I’ve done that with charm and grace, and there’s been days where I’ve used everything else in my arsenal, some of which my mom wouldn’t be proud of. But we’re trying to get results.”
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, after learning Friday that CGI would be replaced at the federal level, said that “we should probably do the same.”
Shumlin did announce this week that Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller would assist the Department of Vermont Health Access with the troubled site over the next several months.
Shumlin said the request for Miller’s help came from DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson.
Darcie Johnston, head of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom and the administration’s biggest critic on health reform efforts, said she is dismayed that Shumlin is sticking with CGI.
“I wish we had the federal exchange,” she said. “Vermonters would have relief from this awful system that the governor has us trapped in.”