The Shumlin Administration is facing new calls to delay the implementation of its health care exchange for at least a year.
Several business and local government groups say the delay is needed because the online electronic payment system for the exchange still isn’t working. They’re worried that there’s isn’t enough time to fix the system by the end of the year.
The exchange has encountered a number of technical problems over the past two months and the electronic online payment system has never worked. Gov. Peter Shumlin said it was his goal to have the system up and operating at the beginning of December. But state officials said on Monday that’s not going to happen.
Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said at a news conference that he was pleased to announce that individuals can now purchase policies on the exchange as long as they pay by check. Larson said that’s the only option available because problems with the electronic payment system haven’t been fixed.
And Larson said these problems also mean that small businesses can’t use the online payment program at this time.
“We continue the testing for small groups that had elected to continue their applications with Vermont Health Connect,” said Larson. “We are not prepared today to initiate the invoicing for small groups.”
Larson said small business that have created an account at Vermont Health Connect will be able to extend their current coverage for at least three months. Businesses can also purchase policies directly from Blue Cross and MVP.
He said small businesses that haven’t made a decision about their coverage will be assigned a policy by their current insurance carrier that most closely resembles their existing coverage.
“While we recognize the frustration and we’ve shared the frustration that the upgrades and changes haven’t occurred as quickly as we would like we’re pleased that there’s a plan in place with Blue Cross and MVP to make sure that small businesses won’t experience gaps in coverage," Larson said.
Betsy Bishop is the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. She said the current situation is unacceptable and she wants the Shumlin Administration to delay the mandatory implementation of the exchange for a year.
“Creating a new health care system is not easy but making matter worse is forcing employers and individuals into a system that's not working,” Bishop said. “Enough is enough. It is time for the state to take a step back, ensure that the system works well before we put any more people into it. It is not a system that is working for small businesses.”
Steve Jeffrey is the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He said many towns are very confused about their options. Jeffrey also supports a one year delay.
“When you’re dealing with something as important as your health and your ability to be able to secure health care this is not something that you can trifle with,” said Jeffrey. “And I’m afraid that it is been so mishandled at this point that we would be better off if we just went until Jan. 1, 2015.”
The Shumlin Administration says the governor has already put a three month delay in place and officials think this will be enough time to straighten out problems with the exchange.