Vermont Health Connect Has Solved Many Of Its Problems As New Enrollment Begins

Oct 27, 2017

Officials say the technical problems at Vermont Health Connect have been largely resolved as the health exchange's open enrollment period begins on Wednesday.

The enrollment period has been cut in half. Previously, it was three months long. This year it runs for six weeks - from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

When Vermont Health Connect was launched four years ago, the website was plagued with numerous computer problems leading to billing errors and the cancellation of coverage for some people.

Sean Sheehan is the deputy director at the Department of Vermont Health Access. He says the operations of the state's health care exchange have improved dramatically in the past year.

"We're in better shape than we ever have been and if you go down each of those items you'll see that every one that has a comparable metric from over a year, is better than it was a year ago," said Sheehan.  

Mike Fisher is Vermont's Health Care Advocate. He applauds the progress that's been made at Vermont Health Connect, but he says more needs to be done.

“And while I want to recognize that the Vermont Health Connect staff and contractors are good people who have been working hard to do the best they can, but that for many of them they really do need additional supports," said Fisher. 

"We're in better shape than we ever have been and if you go down each of those items you'll see that every one that has a comparable metric is better than it was a year ago." — Deputy Director Sean Sheehan

Last week, President Trump eliminated federal subsidies to health insurance companies. The companies used these payments to reduce out of pocket expenses for low and middle income people.

Fisher says it's critical for Vermonters, who are eligible for these cost reductions, to understand that the benefits will still be available and it's up to the insurance companies to determine how to pay for them.

"Those supports are still available despite the news story that in the last couple of weeks about actions by the Trump Administration and many messages alluded to a concept that those supports weren't there,” Fisher said.   

The Trump Administration has announced substantial cuts for the Affordable Care Act's budget for outreach programs.

Deputy Director Sheehan doesn't expect that these cuts will have much of an impact on Vermont.

"So with Vermont choosing to go as a state-based exchange a lot more of that is in our control,” said Sheehan. “We are fortunate to have a great set of partners across the state who really have worked to bring down Vermont's uninsured rate." 

Sheehan says about 30,000 Vermonters get their health insurance coverage by purchasing "qualified health plans" on the exchange. This represents about 6 percent of Vermont's adult population.

In addition, roughly 150,000 people receive Medicaid coverage through Vermont Health Connect, according to Sheehan.

Update 10/28/2017 10:45 a.m. This post originally said about 30,000 Vermonters get their insurance from Vermont Health Connect. It's been updated to clarify that figure refers to "qualified health plans." A figure regarding Medicaid coverage has also been added.