GOP wants broader Vt. Health Connect changes
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | August 06,2014
MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top elected Republicans praised Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday for firing the developer of Vermont Health Connect, but they also prodded him toward further action and called for a review of his management team.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, House Minority Leader Don Turner and Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning met reporters Tuesday after the Shumlin administration’s announcement Monday that tech firm CGI and the state would part ways. CGI has been the lead developer of the state’s troubled online health insurance marketplace.
The trio of Republicans said they want the exchange to function successfully and serve Vermonters. They said they hoped to avoid appearing partisan as they offered their recommendations for improving the exchange.
“I think it’s essential as we moved forward to try and do everything we can to put this into place so that Vermonters feel secure about their health care,” said Scott, a member of the Democratic Shumlin’s Cabinet. “If there’s one thing that businesses hate the most, that’s uncertainty.”
Scott said he would have preferred to fire CGI six months ago when the federal government cut ties with the company. He said he received little notice before Monday’s announcement that CGI was out.
“I’m hearing that … others did have some knowledge that it might happen,” he said. “So it would have been nice from my standpoint to know something, but not essential.”
Still, Monday’s announcement was “welcome news to most of us,” Scott said, and it allows the state to change course.
“It’s easy to be the Monday-morning quarterback and say that maybe we should have done it before now,” Scott said. “There’s no shame in admitting failure. I think the real shame was to continue down this expensive path without resolution.”
The state is transitioning to another firm, Optum, to complete work on the exchange website. Scott, as well as Turner and Benning, expressed concern about the no-bid contract.
Scott called for a meeting of the Emergency Board, which includes the governor and the heads of the Legislature’s four money committees, to review contract spending, even though it is nearly all federal money.
“Some oversight, some buy-in from legislators, I think, is essential at this point,” Scott said. “We need to know where we’re heading, and I think that bringing everyone together and trying to at least bring everyone on the same page would be important.”
He also said the administration should consider forming a regional exchange with nearby states that would allow Vermont to share resources and provide more insurance plans.
“Shared resources are so important when you’re small and rural,” Scott said.
But that idea, so far, is “not very well thought out at all,” he warned.
“It’s only a concept,” he said. “It’s not something I’ve called the governor of New Hampshire to ask if they have any interest.”
The state could also look into joining the federal exchange, Scott said.
Turner, meanwhile, said he wants a thorough review of what went wrong, including a look at Shumlin administration officials involved, before the state commits additional resources to the exchange project and Optum.
“We’ve been asking the administration time and time again to hold CGI accountable for its shortcomings, and we are happy today that is happening,” Turner said.
“But there are some people in the administration that should be held accountable as well,” he said. “We think that there needs to be a real scrubbing of what happened before we go forward. We’ve got to understand if it’s management or if it’s an IT problem before we go forward.”
Turner pointed to three officials in particular as having key roles: Mark Larson, commissioner of Vermont Health Access, his assistant Lindsay Tucker and Robin Lunge, director of Health Care Reform.
“If there’s a management problem, we’ve got the same management with a new company,” Turner said.
He said he also wants the administration to lift the mandate requiring individuals and small businesses to purchase health insurance on the exchange. Vermonters should be allow to obtain coverage outside the system, he said.
“In 2011, my caucus members fought hard on the floor for that,” Turner said. “We felt it was essential to give people a choice. ... We’re at this point in the middle of the road, maybe, where we can make another decision.”
Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, attended the GOP leaders’ meeting with reporters Tuesday. Afterward he said many of the proposals put forth did not seem feasible at this point.
“My job is to execute the law as it is today and get the thing operational,” Miller said. “Those would be conversations for the Legislature when they return.”
Exchanges in each state “are configured specifically to the regulatory and statutory requirements,” he said. Any regional exchange would require “alignment of the underlying regulations and policies before the system can work across those borders.”
Vermont has set higher standards than most states for health insurance plans allowed on the exchange.
“I’m not sure that New Hampshire and Massachusetts would want to come up to our regulatory standard, what’s included,” Miller said. “And I’m not sure that the Vermont Legislature, upon further consideration, would necessarily want to come down.”