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Vermont fires creator of its ‘unacceptable,’ glitchy health exchange

By   /   August 4, 2014  /   No Comments

VERMONT HEALTH DISCONNECT: Vermont House Majority Leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, is one of thousands snared by the glitch-ridden Vermont Health Connect website.

VERMONT HEALTH DISCONNECT: Vermont House Majority Leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, is one of thousands snared by the glitch-ridden Vermont Health Connect website.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The state of Vermont has fired CGI, the technology firm responsible for creating the Vermont Health Connect website.

House Majority Leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, was among thousands of Vermonters unable to sign up properly through the site.

“We have constituents (struggling) out there — I’m one of them, I’m in that exchange. I had to struggle for change in circumstance. It’s just unacceptable,” Jewett told Vermont Watchdog.

An estimated 14,000 Vermonters are tied up in “change of circumstance” glitches with Vermont Health Connect. Since CGI launched the site this past October, health officials have received a steady stream of complaints from people unable to make adjustments to plans online.

Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller explained CGI’s firing in a statement to press.

“For many, Vermont Health Connect works as it should. For others, the system is still failing them and causing deep frustration. That is unacceptable to me, and we will explore every option and take every step to make this system work for all Vermonters,” he said. “Today’s changes are steps in that direction and more can be expected in the coming weeks.”

Vermont has paid CGI $57 million of an $83 million contract. The state will pay CGI an additional $9.7 million through Sept. 20 for completed work. The Department of Vermont Health Access announced it will transition the remaining work to Optum.

This isn’t the first time CGI has been fired.

The Obama administration canned CGI in January after the government services firm failed to deliver an exchange website for the federal health exchange, HealthCare.gov. Massachusetts announced in March it was dumping the firm due to technical failures. The company’s contract with Hawaii is currently under fire for the same technical hang-ups.

According to Ann Slattery, a health care navigator with the Health Assistance Program at Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont is training hundreds of new workers to deal with the growing backlog of people unable to make changes to plans online.

“The problem they are having is we had so many change of circumstances this first year that they got overwhelmed. More recently, they have hired more people and have been working on that backlog,” she said.

Slattery explained that “stage one” fixes relate to minor changes, such as change of address. More extensive changes — such as a marriage, divorce, job, or change in family size — require more extensive training to resolve. The new workers take calls over a hotline and make the changes manually.

“There’s only open enrollment once a year. (So) the only way you can change your insurance plan to either get out, get in, or change it to a different plan (is to) have a change of circumstance. …And how you would do that is put through the request that you do have a change of circumstance to the Vermont Health Connect, and they would help you get that change in your policy,” Slattery said.

Jewett didn’t say which change-of-circumstance issue snagged his family’s coverage, but he said problems reported at CGI went well beyond incompetence.

“(It’s) the failure of a private company that we contracted with. At a certain point it’s not just a contractual matter — it’s worse than that. It’s unfathomable how badly they are doing. When is it that the attorney general, or a bunch of attorneys general, are going to go after them?” he said.

Darcie Johnston, founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, said Jewett’s troubles illustrate the nightmare government-run health care is creating for Vermonters.

“If people like Majority Leader Jewett are bailing from Vermont Health Connect’s program and think there are real problems, that tells you how bad it is. It’s indicative of what these legislators are hearing from voters, and how upset they are with the system.”

Jewett said the failures of CGI have overshadowed the good intentions of Act 48 and the state’s move toward a single-payer system.

“The real shame of it is a lot of good has been done through the exchange. Many constituents have said the savings on this has been a life saver. But mechanically it’s a complete dog.”

As for the continued delays related to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer vision, Jewett said, “If it’s not rolled out in a timely fashion, then we’re not making a decision on (Shumlin’s) time frame. We’re going to take the time we need to understand the thing. You’re not going to deliver this and then ask us to vote for it very quickly thereafter.”

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

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Bruce Parker is a reporter for Watchdog.org. Prior to joining the organization he was a writer for a leading business publisher. His articles and case studies have appeared in books and publications by Thomson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Civic Leadership Center. His work has also been featured at The Daily Caller, FoxNews.com, WND, CitySearch, Human Events, The Daily Signal and Catholic Exchange.