Republicans call for assessment of Vermont Heath Connect

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top republicans are calling for an independent assessment of Vermont Health Connect to determine if it’s worth keeping.

On Friday, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning and House Minority Leader Don Turner called for the Green Mountain Care Board to conduct an assessment of the state’s beleaguered health care exchange.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott calls for an independent assessment of Vermont Health Connect. (VPB/Josh O’Gorman)

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” said Scott, whose remarks follow testimony offered earlier this week to the House Health Care Committee from Garton Consulting, which recommended an independent assessment.

Sen. Benning, R-Caledonia, reviewed a two-year time line of blown deadlines, cost overruns and lack of functionality for Vermont Health Connect.

“Vermonters have suffered a long history of broken promises and missed deadlines on this frustrating path to affordable and dependable health care,” Benning said. “The administration has been either incapable of recognizing or purposely choosing not to be truthful about the lack of progress of its efforts.”

Josh O'Gorman / VPB

Sen. Joe Benning lists two year’s worth of blown deadlines and cost overruns for Vermont Health Connect. (VPB/Josh O’Gorman)

Rep. Turner, R-Milton, offered his take on the administration’s handling of Vermont Health Connect.

“The administration cannot be trusted on this issue,” Turner said. “It’s been proven year after year after year.”

Scott said he believed the Shumlin Administration would not oppose an independent assessment of the state-run health exchange.

“The assessment is something we’ve talked about and it appears the administration is willing to consider it,” Scott said. “We’re saying that maybe it should be taken out of the administration’s control and put into an independent body in order to get a true independent voice so that we can monitor the situation as it moves forward.”

Administration spokesman Scott Coriell said the Shumlin Administration would support an independent assessment, but would not support moving to the federal exchange.

Josh O'Gorman / VPB

Rep. Don Turner calls for an independent assessment of Vermont Health Connect. (VPB/Josh O’Gorman)

“We recognize there are still issues with Vermont Health Connect, but the answer is not moving to a new system that, by the way, doesn’t work very well,” Coriell said. “If the Republicans and the lieutenant governor have an idea for what to do, they should just come out and say it. The last idea they had was to move to the federal exchange.”

Al Gobeille, chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, said his board has not yet had an opportunity to discuss conducting an assessment, but would certainly do so if instructed by lawmakers to do it.

Every single thing the board does, we do it based in fact,” Gobeille said. “We would do a factual analysis and offer a factual judgment on this. That’s how we do our job.”

Garton Consulting testified that an independent assessment might take as long as 12-to-14 weeks and might cost as much as $500,000. Turner said the money could be found within the budget for Vermont Health Connect.

“We are wasting money on Vermont Health Connect every day and we think we can move some money around there,” Turner said. “This needs to be done as soon as possible. Vermonters have waited long enough for this to be fixed.”

Turner said he is working with legislative counsel to draft an amendment calling for the assessment and will attach it to an upcoming bill related to health care.

Scott said that if the assessment does not happen this year, he would be inclined to make it happen by executive order if he is elected governor.

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