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Lawmakers demand independent assessment of Vermont’s health exchange

By   /   February 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo by Michael Bielawski

Left to Right: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, House Minority Leader Don Turner, and state Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, hold a news conference at the Statehouse.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Calls to pull the plug on Vermont Health Connect grew louder on Friday despite more than $200 million already invested in the troubled health care exchange.

Standing together at a Statehouse news conference, Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, House Minority Leader Don Turner, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning and other legislators called for an independent assessment of Vermont Health Connect.

The state’s top Republican leaders want a determination on whether Vermont should should make the exchange functional or transition to the federal exchange, or seek an opportunity to work with another state.

“We can give Vermonters what they want, which is just health care they can count on,” Scott said.

“They want to be able to pay for it, and they have been paying for it, and their checks have been returned. They have been showing up at the pharmacies and providers and finding out they don’t have insurance,” he added.

Benning offered a lengthy timeline of the exchange’s shortcomings, including a demand from Blue Cross Blue Shield that the state reconcile $3 million to $5 million in past-due premiums for 2014 alone.

Another problem is VHC’s backlog in processing customers’ change in circumstance requests. In July, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s health care reform team reported a bottleneck of 6,500 changes needing to be made to customer accounts. Despite a claim in October that the backlog was eliminated, health care officials report a new backlog of  5,700 requests as of Jan. 25.

Turner said Republicans have been calling for change for some time now.

“We have been promoting removing the mandate, moving to the federal exchange and bringing more affordable and better access for Vermonters for health care for a number of years,” he said. “We will continue that fight. That’s why we are here today.”

Scott said Connecticut, Hawaii, and Oregon have shut down their failed state exchanges and transitioned to the federal exchange.

“What we are doing isn’t working, so I’m advocating that we have the assessment and we do so with somebody that is independent,” he said. “It shouldn’t be the administration that oversees this, so we will ask the Green Mountain Care Board to do it … in a transparent way so that we can get the right information back.”

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, said the assessment should take around 12 to 14 weeks and cost about $500,000.

“Is there a possibility that using some of our existing structure still makes sense, or should we be transitioning to something else?” she said.

Immediately following the news conference, Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell started another to counter the Republicans’ message.

“If people are thinking that before VHC insurance went smoothly and well for people, they are mistaken,” Coriell said. “Yes, people have had issues with it, but we are working through them.”

Asked if he felt an independent review was necessary, Coriell replied, “We’ve been studying VHC for the past three years and now we are just trying to make it work for people. The issue with an independent review is if the Republicans and Lieutenant Governor have an idea for what to do, they should just come out and say it.”

He suggested a move to the federal exchange would initially cost around $24 million, and would continue to cost $5 million annually to run after that. He also suggested that certain subsidies for patients would not carry over the federal system.

State Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, said she didn’t know how Coriell came up with the $24 million figure. She cited larger states like Oregon that transitioned to the federal exchange for about $7 million. She also disputed Coriell’s assertion about lost subsidies, stating that the U.S. Supreme Court already settled the issue.

Contact Michael Bielawski at [email protected]

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A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Michael has been writing freelance articles for various publications in and around New York City, Seoul in South Korea, upstate NY and Vermont for ten years. He currently is a staff writer at the Hardwick Gazette keeping track of rising school budgets and other rural Vermont issues. He likes best to write about health, economics, and geopolitics generally looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home he's very busy looking after two little boys and during free time loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films off Netflix.