WINOOSKI, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin had said there would be “bumps in the road” as the state launched its new Vermont Health Connect health insurance marketplace, and its launch Tuesday proved him right.
The much anticipated opening of the new government-run health insurance exchange, Vermont’s version of state efforts being rolled out nationwide to comply with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), was greeted almost immediately after its 9 a.m. opening with complaints that consumers couldn’t get its webpages to open and work properly.
“Overnight they sent us our numbers and passwords so we could log in and set up our navigator accounts,” said Peter Youngbaer, executive director of the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre, which provides health care to uninsured Vermonters and which has received a grant to be a “navigator” organization, guiding people on using Vermont Health Connect.
“That function did not work,” he added. “The website was off or not available.”
Similar frustration was heard around Vermont, as state officials continued to express confidence that the bugs would be worked out well in advance of Jan. 1, when the health insurance products that went on sale Tuesday take effect.
Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, which is leading implementation of Vermont Health Connect, told reporters Tuesday that the launch of the system was “a step in a marathon — this is not a sprint.”
The program’s website was projected to be the main way consumers interacted with Vermont Health Connect. It was designed to allow about 100,000 Vermonters who fall into certain categories — those who buy health insurance themselves or get it from employers with fewer than 50 employees — to compare prices and service offerings for the health insurance products of two companies: Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP Health Care. It was also designed to tell people if they were eligible for a newly expanded Medicaid program, or for federal tax credit subsidies to help them pay for private insurance.