Vt. Health Connect Site Not Ready for Small Business

Montpelier — Vermont small businesses required to purchase employee health insurance through the state’s exchange will have to enroll directly with insurance companies for another year, according to Lawrence Miller, the state’s new chief of Health Care Reform.

Gov. Peter Shumlin originally announced the contingency last year as a stop-gap when the Vermont Health Connect website launched with serious deficiencies. The timeline for completing the small business component has been extended twice.

The federal government has given Vermont assurances that it can continue to rely on the carriers for the upcoming direct enrollment period, state officials have said.

The state’s focus for Vermont Health Connect has shifted to clearing two major hurdles in the individual market — allowing people to make changes to their coverage and renew their coverage. Both are functions the website cannot currently perform.

Following the missed deadline last week, state officials have not provided an estimate for when they will deploy the change of circumstance function, but have said they continue to make progress in testing it.

The state recently signed a $6 million contract with Minnesota-based health IT firm OptumInights Inc. to help work through the backlog of requests from users to make changes in their coverage.

“We have recognized in the past weeks that we are not able to do this on our own and we need external and significant assistance to bring down the backlog,” Lindsey Tucker, the state’s lead project manager for Vermont Health Connect, told a legislative oversight committee Thursday.

There are more than 10,000 Vermonters who need to make a change in their coverage, according to Tucker’s presentation to the committee. State officials would not discuss contractual issues about whether it will seek to impose an additional $2 million in penalties though CGI missed a deadline last week to deliver the change of circumstance function, and it does not appear likely the small business function will be ready by July 2 as specified in the contract.