On Wednesday morning, state officials invited members of the media to have a look under the hood of Vermont Health Connect. Administration officials hope the demonstration will boost confidence in a new piece of technology that the governor says will solve longstanding problems on the insurance exchange. But the program remains a work in progress.
Cassandra Gekas, director of operations for Vermont Health Access Eligibility and Enrollment, welcomed reporters to what had been billed as a demonstration of software that will purportedly eradicate the customer-service ordeals that have plagued the insurance marketplace since its launch in 2013.
“We’re going to show you two things: One is how we would process changes in the old world, prior to our new deployment, and then how we process a change in our new world,” Gekas said.
The site’s inability to process changes to customers’ life circumstances in a timely or reliable way has led to billing errors, lapsed policies, and in some cases delayed access to care. A large computer screen had been affixed to a wall a large conference room in Williston. Gekas narrated as a Vermont Health Connect technician performed the laborious process formerly used to process those changes.
“It’s really difficult to serve customers well when their case has to be touched by 10 people over several days or weeks,” Gekas said.
Then she showed off the new way of doing things, made possible by a technological improvement that not only expedites the data entry process, but also automatically delivers that data to the insurance carriers, payment processors and other digital cogs in the insurance gearbox.
According to Gekas, what once took weeks will soon take hours or days.
“And I think you can see from the demonstration, our world is very different and we’re moving in the right direction, and feel that we’re going to be able to really improve our service levels for Vermonters,” Gekas said.
The demonstration was conducted in a test environment – not one involving real people or their policies. Gekas said privacy consultants forbade a public viewing of the "live environment." And the change-of-circumstance functionality isn’t yet ready for prime time. Staff is still being trained on the new platform. And contractors are still working out bugs in the system.
Gekas says it’ll be weeks before her team fully deploys the new software. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Vermont Health Connect customers are still waiting for changes to be made to their health insurance policies.
Officials at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont have previously expressed strong concern about the impacts on policy holders as a result of Vermont Health Connect’s problems. Cory Gustafson, director of government and public relations at Blue Cross, says the insurer isn’t in a position to gauge the state’s progress.
“The true measure for Blue Cross Blue Shield of a successful rollout of the new software is when that change-of-circumstance backlog has been reduced to nothing and that change of circumstances are processed and taken care of in a short period of time,” Gustafson says.
Gekas says no one is asking Vermonters to take state officials at their word.
“So I think the proof is in the pudding in seeing Vermonters’ changes actually get made,” Gekas said. “And that’s far more powerful than anything we could show you today … Our ability to help Vermonters is really what makes us successful, and we’re confident that we’re going in that direction.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin has said that by Oct. 1, changes made to policies at the beginning of one month will have taken effect by the next.