As Vermont Health Exchange Flails, Lawmakers Look To Connecticut

May 20, 2015

The future of Vermont’s health insurance exchange depends on the Shumlin administration’s ability to meet a looming deadline. Still unanswered, though, is the question of how to proceed if the milestone goes unmet. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and top lawmakers think the solution might be in Connecticut.

Vermont Health Connect has disappointed from the get-go. If the Shumlin administration doesn’t clear a key technology hurdle by the end of this month, then lawmakers say they’ll push to abandon the exchange here, and find an alternative insurance outlet elsewhere.

Scott, a Republican, says they ought to look toward Connecticut, which by all accounts has had more success with its version of the online marketplace.

“It has the potential of saving us, I believe, millions of dollars in the future and could be groundbreaking for the nation, if it works,” Scott says. 

Two weeks ago, Scott hosted a meeting in his Statehouse office, where key lawmakers and administration officials sat down with the head of Connecticut’s exchange to discuss a possible collaboration.

"It has the potential of saving us, I believe, millions of dollars in the future and could be groundbreaking for the nation, if it works." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott on Connecticut's health exchange

Scott said the head of Access Health CT, as the exchange is called there, told them that his state could take care of most of Vermont’s exchange needs, and save money in the process.

Scott thinks Vermont should pull the plug on its exchange right now, despite the fact that the state has spent well over $100 million so far to build it.

“There comes a point in time, and we all face them in our personal lives, business lives, when you have to know to say when, and to stop digging,” Scott says. “When you find yourself in a hole, you have to stop digging at some point.”

Even if legislators and administration officials aren’t ready to shelve Vermont Health Connect altogether, Scott says maybe there are components of the exchange that Vermont could farm out to Connecticut. Lawmakers seem receptive to the idea.

"If we're not able to get an exchange that is totally functional, it's imperative for us to look elsewhere, and Connecticut surely seems to be a state that's gotten it right." - Senate President John Campbell

“If we’re not able to get an exchange that is totally functional, it’s imperative for us to look elsewhere, and Connecticut surely seems to be a state that’s gotten it right,” says Senate President John Campbell.
Campbell says time is running out for the administration to get it right.

Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for Gov. Peter Shumlin, isn’t dismissing the idea of some kind of collaboration with Connecticut’s exchange.

“We’ve got to look for ways across the states to reduce costs on common shared needs,” Miller says.

Miller, however, says there’s no guarantee Vermont will save money by paying its neighbor to the south to administer all or even parts of this state’s exchange. He says the exchange infrastructure, assuming it comes together, will eventually serve other information technology needs inside the Agency of Human Services.

"You can farm out various components. The question is whether that truly winds up being least cost, and most robust solution on an overall basis." - Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform

  

Miller says hiring Connecticut to take over the exchange means Vermont would also have to find different vendors to administer all the services Vermont Health Connect was supposed to provide elsewhere in state government. And he says costs under that scenario could easily exceed what Vermont is spending on its exchange. 

Miller says he’s optimistic the exchange will soon be functioning more smoothly, and that calls for its closure will fade. 

“You can farm out various components. The question is whether that truly winds up being least cost, and most robust solution on an overall basis,” Miller says.

Miller says he is very interested in hiring Connecticut to administer one key aspect of the exchange. The state still hasn’t figured out how to enroll small businesses in Vermont Health Connect. With no obvious solution on the horizon, Miller says it might make sense to pay Connecticut to process the small-business insurance for Vermont.