February 25, 2016
Contact: Rep. Don Turner
Republican Legislators Stress Impartial VHC Review Crucial to Viability of State Healthcare Exchange
That Vermont Health Connect (VHC) is a spectacular failure is now common knowledge.
After three years of botched operations and $302.3 million in squandered taxpayer dollars, the state’s health insurance exchange is still severely rife with errors. For example, in her testimony before the House Healthcare Committee this week, VHC’s Director of Operations Cassandra Gekas stated that the backlog for change of circumstance (COC) cases is unlikely to drop below 3,000. As of February 2016, 4,801 COC cases remain unprocessed. In addition, Benaissance, VHC’s third-party biller, is reportedly holding $5.9 million because technical issues have stopped payment transfer from customers to insurers.
Seeking a pragmatic and affordable solution on behalf of Vermonters, the House Republican Caucus united with Lt. Governor Phil Scott to call for an immediate and independent audit of VHC. At a press conference on Friday Feb. 19, Republican legislators and Scott expressed a lack of faith and trust in the Shumlin Administration, and its hired contractor Gartner Consulting, to conduct an unbiased assessment of VHC. Instead, they recommended that an independent and non-partisan body, in conjunction with and the Joint Fiscal Office, oversee the review and recommend solutions – including a cost-benefit analysis of transitioning to the federal exchange.
As the state’s healthcare regulatory arm, Green Mountain Care Board serves as an example of a neutral organization that could manage this task. House Minority Leader Rep. Don Turner (R-Milton) is drafting legislation that would permit the legislature to share the oversight responsibility for VHC with the Green Mountain Care Board.
Vermont is the only state in the nation that forbids citizens from purchasing health insurance outside the state-run exchange. As a consequence of this legal requirement, Vermonters are oppressed with the least choice and most expensive premiums and deductibles in the country. To correct this economic injustice, the House Republican Caucus is open to repealing the mandate and allowing private insurance companies to re-enter the market. The resulting competition would play an important role in driving down prices and providing cheaper health insurance options for Vermonters.
Following the press conference, House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) and the Governor’s spokesman Scott Coriell rejected the proposal. “The government is now in the insurance business. If people think that things in the insurance industry prior to Vermont Health Connect went swimmingly, they are mistaken,” Coriell remarked. In spite of such initial resistance, Turner is confident that his bill will earn quadripartisan support in the legislature. He notes, “Irrespective of individual party affiliation, the elected representatives in Montpelier share an enduring commitment to bettering the lives of the people of Vermont. It is incumbent upon us to partner with the most qualified and impartial experts, so that we can take judicious measures moving forward.”
Republican legislators firmly believe that conducting an honest and independent diagnosis of VHC’s state of affairs is a crucial first step toward achieving our collective goal – creating a robust, accessible and affordable healthcare system that generates revenue for the state of Vermont.