Lawmakers suggest administration ‘sugarcoated’ problems with exchange

first_imgby Alicia Freese vtdigger.org The state’s largest dental insurer told lawmakers Tuesday that it had been kept in the dark about recent changes to the rollout of Vermont Health Connect. Lawmakers, meanwhile, complained that the Shumlin administration had ‘sugarcoated’ its updates on the state’s new health care exchange.Concerns about the accuracy and timeliness of information released by the administration were raised Tuesday at a House Health Care Committee meeting. A crowd of lobbyists, advocates and reporters filled the room and spilled out into a Statehouse hallway.Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) Commissioner Mark Larson arrived with a PowerPoint presentation, but his progress through the slides was slow. Lawmakers ‘ Republican Reps. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, and Doug Gage, R-Rutland, in particular ‘ peppered the commissioner with questions.Larson briefed the committee on the administration’s decision, announced Thursday, to delay the mandate that small business and individuals enroll in the exchange by Jan. 1.Small businesses and individuals can now extend their 2013 current plans until March 31, at which point they must enter the exchange.Under the second change, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP will be allowed to act as ‘agents,’ signing up small businesses for plans on Vermont Health Connect and allowing them to bypass the hassle of navigating the beleaguered website.Navigators, brokers and lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have lauded the changes as a smart move on the administration’s part. Blue Cross/Blue Shield and MVP, the two health insurance carriers participating in the exchange, are fully on board. Executives from both companies stood beside Shumlin at Thursday’s news conference, and since then, they’ve spent hours with state officials to iron out the details of the state’s contingency plan.The adjustments stir up additional questions, however, such as how deductibles will be calculated for those three-month extensions. Larson told lawmakers the state is working closely with the insurers and will have ironed out the details before the end of the week.The third insurance carrier taking part in the exchange ‘ Northeast Delta Dental ‘ has been left out of those conversations, representatives for the insurer said.Christine Alibrandi, the company’s health care reform coordinator, told lawmakers that they learned about the recent changes through the media. ‘It’s five days later,’ she added, ‘and we still have not been contacted by the state.’Northeast Delta Dental is the state’s largest dental insurer ‘ it covers 159,445 Vermonters. MVP and Blue Cross/Blue Shield also offer separate dental plans as part of their coverage.‘We have thousands of subscribers here in Vermont,’ Alibrandi said. ‘They are kind of swinging in the wind a little bit. We don’t know what’s happening to them over this transition period.’Delta Dental doesn’t know whether the delayed mandate applies to its plans or whether it will also be permitted to act as an agent, signing up businesses for plans.As Alibrandi rattled off questions she’s left with ‘ in the absence of communication from the administration ‘ Robin Lunge, Shumlin’s health care reform director, stood several feet to her right.The chair of the Health Care Committee, Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, asked Lunge for an explanation.Lunge described an administration scrambling to put ad hoc solutions in place.‘We did not reach out to every single stakeholder prior to the announcement. ‘¦ Absolutely because of the timing there were people on our preferred list, who didn’t get calls before the press conference. So you’re not alone,’ Lunge said. ‘It was not a desire to leave people out. It was simply that there are 24 hours in day.’Lunge offered to schedule a meeting with Alibrandi, but, she added, ‘It’s probably going to be early in the morning or late in the night because there’s a lot going on.’Alibrandi said she understands the rollout of Vermont Health Connect is a ‘behemoth’ of an endeavor, but said Delta Dental at least deserved a phone call notifying them of the changes.‘Given that there are only three carriers approved by the state to offer plans on the exchange, it didn’t seem like something the state would overlook,’ she said.Alibrandi wasn’t the only one Tuesday exasperated by the administration’s communications.Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, told Larson that he had given lawmakers an overly rosy prognosis of the exchange, prior to its launch.‘I can’t help but think about Sept. 12, when we all met downstairs, and we all expressed varying degrees of anxiety about the website for Oct. 1. And you, on behalf of the administration, assured us that we were on target,’ Pearson said.The shortage of accurate information, Pearson said, has constrained the Legislature’s efforts to keep watch over the rollout. ‘I view the legislative role as something as a watchdog on the administration, and it’s very frustrating. I feel like that role is hamstrung when people are putting on a good face,’ Pearson said.Neither lawmakers nor citizens are well-served, according to Pearson, by what he described as ‘sugarcoated answers’ coming from the administration. ‘I think Vermonters would be well-served to have advanced warning if we’re not able to meet the promises that were made,’ Pearson said.Larson said the administration has done the best it can to keep lawmakers in the loop. ‘The information I provided at that time was consistent with the information I had about our schedule,’ he said ‘We were always working on a very tight schedule from the very, very beginning.’Though he acknowledged the exchange launch hasn’t been as smooth as he predicted, Larson contested the suggestion that he had ‘sugarcoated’ his briefings.‘I think we tried to give accurate briefings to the legislators,’ he said. ‘Obviously, the implementation did not go as well as we had planned for it to go. ‘¦ There’s always risk in an IT implementation.’Earlier, Larson began his remarks by telling lawmakers to not to let ‘technical glitches’ overshadow the positive aspects of the transition.‘Yes, we’ve had technical glitches,’ Larson told lawmakers. ‘But I don’t want to lose sight of the excitement about what it means to implement the Affordable Care Act.’last_img

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