Category Archives: State Government

State warned in June that exchange faced disconnection

MONTPELIER — State officials knew in early June that the state’s online health insurance marketplace faced possible disconnection from the federal data hub because of ongoing security shortcomings, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson received a letter, dated June 10, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explaining that Vermont Health Connect could be disconnected from the federal data hub by Sept. 8 if security shortcomings were not resolved.

State officials eventually took the exchange site offline on the evening of Sept. 15, but did so voluntarily, according to Lawrence Miller, a special advisor to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the state’s chief of health care reform.

According to CMS’ letter, the Vermont exchange fared poorly in two quarterly reviews, which prompted the warning and threat of disconnection.

“[B]ased upon CMS’ evaluation of your quarterly (plan of action and milestones) for the past two reporting periods, ending January 31, 2014 and March 31, 2014, we have identified a significant number of open high security findings and/or open moderate findings that potentially could present risk to the security of the Hub,” the letter states.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

The letter acknowledged progress the state was making in addressing security threats, but set a deadline of Sept. 8 to complete that work. It noted, however, that the state “will be disconnected from the Hub and required to submit new security documentation to regain the (Authority to Connect)” if improvements were not completed.

“CMS continues to monitor your mitigation strategies and corrective action plans related to your system’s connection to the Hub, and thus believes that the connection to the Hub continues to be secure. As a result, CMS is not immediately disconnecting your state from the Hub, but provides notice pursuant to Section 18 of the Master Interconnection Security Agreement between the parties dated September 20, 20013, that the open high and/or moderate security findings must be addressed … or your state’s (authority to connect) will be terminated,” the letter states.

Miller said Thursday that he could not discuss the threats identified by CMS, but said they are “potential weaknesses.”

“It’s not necessarily identified weaknesses. It’s potential weaknesses,” he said.

According to Miller, the state’s chief information security officer had regular communication with CMS over the next several months. It initially appeared that the state would be granted additional time to complete security improvements, Miller said.

In an email dated Sept. 3 and sent to Larson, Kirk Grothe in CMS’s Office of Information Services, said he believed the state would need until Nov. 3 to complete the required security improvements. However, he also noted that he “was not able to commit to the extended timeline.”VHC

Miller said it initially appeared based on conversations with CMS that the state would be granted additional time. However, it became clear over the next two weeks after Grothe’s email that more time would not be granted. Miller said he and other officials then decided to take Vermont Health Connect offline voluntarily because they knew the deadline would not be met and an extension would not be granted.

“They clearly had an elevated anxiety level from earlier in the year. If nothing had changed, every indication we were getting from our contacts was, ‘Oh yeah, if it takes you a couple more weeks, given the fact that you’re switching over from CGI, you’re working on it, it should be fine.’ And then it wasn’t,” Miller said. “It was a pretty easy decision to say, ‘We don’t have to talk anymore. We’ve got it. We’re going to do this.’”

Miller said officials decided it would be “just silly” to try and accelerate the process of boosting security to meet the Sept. 8 deadline. Officials were also trying to improve other functions on the site while transitioning from original contractor CGI to its new contractor Optum.

“We had the security stuff and we had the performance improvements and the website revisions and were in the middle of the transition from CGI to Optum,” he said. “We were looking at whether we could finish within the time period that we were talking about. We said, ‘No, this isn’t going to happen.’”

Despite learning in June of the security issues, state officials did not disclose the problem until Sept. 16, when Miller, Larson and Shumlin held a news conference to announce that the site was taken offline the previous evening. Miller said he and other state officials were told by CMS that disclosing the potential security threats could encourage hackers to attack the site.

“I have no discomfort with the fact that we did not put that out there based on our conversations with CMS on how to handle these things. You don’t talk about this stuff, period,” he said.

Miller said he has “every reason to believe” the site will be back up before the open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15. The Nov. 3 target identified by CMS is no longer valid, he said, because the work has been combined with other site upgrades.

“That had been what the technical assistance folks at CMS concluded was a reasonable date,” he said.

Larson was dismissed from oversight of Vermont Health Connect last month by Acting Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen. Miller is now responsible for the site’s operations.

 

Read the letter from CMS to former Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson.

 

Read emails between state officials and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services obtained through a pubic records request concerned the state’s decision to take Vermont Health Connect offline.

 

DCF report seeks staff and training

MONTPELIER — A report released Wednesday based on an internal review of the Department for Children and Families does not recommend restructuring the agency, but does seek immediate boosts to staffing, additional staff training and better collaboration between the department and its partners.

Acting Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz presented the plan to Gov. Peter Shumlin Wednesday. Shumlin had requested an internal review in May following the deaths of two toddlers under the department’s supervision.

Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides and murder charges were filed.

Officials said Wednesday “that DCF should strengthen its approach to integrated services, rather than engage in a major reorganization aimed at splitting up the department.”

The report also calls for increased staffing to improve operations and programs, improved training for staff, continued review of department policies and practices, better collaboration with other state agencies and partners and better transparency and communication internally as well as with the Legislature and public.

Additionally, the department should better align management resources “to enable the DCF Commissioner to focus more time on the core mission of the department: protecting vulnerable children and families.”

Chen and Katz have scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The review began under former Secretary Doug Racine, who was fired by Shumlin, and former DCF Commissioner David Yacovone. Input for the report was sought from the public, law enforcement, families, legislators, child and family advocates, agency staff and stakeholder groups.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

 

Spaulding to leave Shumlin administration

MONTPELIER — Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding was announced Wednesday as the next chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges and will be stepping down from his position in the Shumlin administration.

Spaulding will take over as chancellor in January. It was not immediately known when he planned to step away from his administration position.

Spaulding, 61, a former state treasurer and state senator from Washington County, has served as Gov. Peter Shumlin’s top administration official since Shumlin took office in January 2011. Shumlin issued a statement Wednesday, calling Spaulding “the ideal person to take the helm of the Vermont State Colleges.”

Jeb Spaulding

Jeb Spaulding

“Jeb has been a good friend since our first days working together in the Legislature 24 years ago. As my Administration Secretary, he has been a rock-solid partner, creating a balanced budget year after year, and preserving Vermont’s exceptional fiscal management and bond rating,” Shumlin said in his statement. “He has also been a close personal advisor, a role I know he will continue to play. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Jeb when he takes on his new role as Chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges next January.”

During his time in the Senate, from 1985 to 2001, Spaulding chaired the Appropriations Committee, the Education Committee, the Joint Fiscal Committee and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

He was elected state treasurer in 2002 and served in that office until he became administration secretary under Shumlin.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

DVHA has new deputy commissioner

MONTPELIER — A new Department of Vermont Health Access deputy commissioner has been hired to help the state’s troubled exchange.

Lawrence Miller, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said Wednesday that native Vermonter Bob Skowronski will take over the role. Former Deputy Commissioner Lindsey Tucker has been assigned to a new roll in DVHA, he said.

According to Lawrence, Skowronski has “spent his career in health care IT system work.” In recent years he has worked on exchanges in New York, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island and Connecticut. He has also worked as Blue Cross Blue Shield in Vermont as director of data management.

Skowronski said Wednesday that his experience in working on exchanges has come from the carrier side in previous work with United Health Care.

“I would consider the carrier … as a customer of the exchange. So, I’ve seen the exchange from a different perspective. The processes are the same, just a different perspective,” he said.

Miller said Skowronski approached him about helping the state fix Vermont Health Connect, which continues to lack key functions.

“He sent me a letter a few weeks ago offering to help at a time in his career when he can step off the corporate track and give back to the community in a way that really takes advantage of his skills and experience,” Miller wrote in an email.

Skowronski said he was preoccupied with his work and only recently began to take not of the challenges in Vermont. When he took stock of the situation at Vermont Health Connect he wanted to help. He said his status as Six Sigma black belt will can help address the site’s shortcomings.

“A few weeks ago, a month ago, I started paying closer attention to news reports … and realized they were experiencing problems that I thought I could help solve,” he said.

Miller said he passed Skowronski’s interest in helping along to Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson for interviews.

Skowronski, who began work on Tuesday, said he has spent his first two days listening and gauging the needs of stakeholders.

“Clearly Vermonters have had issues with the way Vermont Health Connect was implemented. What I want to start with is their perspective. I want to start with what’s important to Vermonters. I want to work with what’s important to carriers. I want to make sure we’re working closely with the vendors. I want to make sure we’re satisfying various regulators,” he said.

Yacovone leaving post at DCF

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday afternoon that Department for Children and Families Commissioner David Yacovone is leaving his position in the embattled department for a job in the private sector.

Yacovone made the decision to leave state service and was not asked to step down. Still, the move comes as DCF deals with the fallout of several crises and faces a potential reorganization following a comprehensive review ordered by Shumlin in May.

The department faced scathing criticism following the deaths earlier this year of two children supervised by the department. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides.

David Yacovone

David Yacovone

Calls for Yacovone’s ouster have persisted since those tragedies. Former Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine was fired by Shumlin earlier this month.

Various investigations into the toddlers’ deaths are ongoing, and a special legislative panel has worked all summer to determine what, if any, legislation is needed to address policies and procedures within the department.

Additionally, a lawsuit was filed last week against the state department alleging that social workers did not act on the reported abuse and neglect of two children in Ludlow over a four year period.

Yacovone, a former member of the Vermont House, was appointed DCF commissioner in January 2011, when Shumlin took office. He has worked in the health and human services field since 1976, beginning as a vocational counselor for economically disadvantaged Vermonters.

Yacovone also worked as a nursing home administrator for 16 years and at the Agency of Human Services for 12 years, including stints as chief operating officer, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living and and director of field services in the Morrisville district office.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

Shumlin, Milne and Sorrell secure nominations

MONTPELIER — Tuesday’s primary was marked by low voter turnout and slow, tedious counting by election officials as they sorted through many ballots with write in votes.

Few Vermonters exercised their right to vote in the state’s primary Tuesday in which candidates looked to secure their party’s nominations for the general election in November. Clerks around the state reported a paltry showing from voters.

Most town and city clerks were expected to be counting and tallying results late into the night, well past deadline, thanks to aggressive write in campaigns waged by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano and Dean Corren, a Progressive running for lieutenant governor.

On the GOP ballot, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne was declared the winner by the Associated Press just after 8 p.m. He defeated Republicans Emily Peyton and Steve Berry, and fended off the write in challenge by Feliciano.

With just 79, or 29 percent of the state’s 275 precincts reporting results at 8:45 p.m., Milne had tallied 70 percent of the vote, far ahead of both Peyton and Berry who both had about 6 percent. Write in votes, presumably most with Feliciano’s name, accounted for 17.5 percent of the reported votes.

Town and city clerks were mandated to report results to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night with the number of write in votes cast, but were not required to declare for whom those write in votes were cast.

“I’m very pleased to win. I was not surprised, I guess, but I think the low turnout could have been bad for me. My sense is that if there was a larger turnout my margin would have been higher,” Milne said. “Overall, I thought it was good for Vermont and I think it gives me a little more name recognition going into November, so I’m thankful for my opponents for that.”

Milne will now pivot from the primary to focus on defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Milne said he will make the case that Shumlin has had “a really bad performance over the last four years.”

“We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to Gov. Shumlin and I think we will do very well in the fall,” he said.

Corren was asking voters to write him in on the Democratic primary ballot to help him secure the nomination for both the Progressive and Democratic Parties. He will need at least 250 write in votes on the Democratic ballot for the party to endorse him. However, some party stalwarts, including Democratic Sens. Dick Mazza, Dick Sears and John Campbell, have endorsed the popular Republican incumbent Phil Scott.

As of 8:45 p.m., 1,245 write in votes had been cast, but it was unclear for whom. Some Democrats had pledged to write in Scott on the Democratic ballot in a bid to thwart Corren.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Shumlin was declared the winner early on by the Associated Press. He was way out ahead of challenger H. Brooke Paige. Shumlin had 76 percent of the vote to Paige’s 17 percent.

Paige was also badly trailing incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, also declared a winner by the AP, in that position’s primary. Sorrell had 79 percent to Paige’s 20 percent.

The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. representative was too close to call. With 92 precincts reporting, Mark Donka and Donald Russell were separated by one vote and had 34 percent of the vote each. Donald Nolte had tallied 27 percent of the vote.

Turnout, as expected, was extremely low. The percentage of registered voters that cast ballots Tuesday was unknown Tuesday night, but looked like it could be one of the worst showings in recent history.

In Barre Town, by 2:30 p.m. only 227 voters had cast ballots out of a possible 5,464 voters on the checklist, according to Town Clerk Donna Kelty.

“It’s been realy, really, slow here,” Kelty said. “We rarely have great turnout for primary elections In our municipality it was the first day of school so people had other things on their minds.”

In Bennington, both of the town’s House districts featured a contest on the Democratic ballot. In the Bennington 2-2 district, four Democrats were running for two spots on the November ballot. Results were not available as of 8:45 p.m.

Still, not even that contested race with well-known candidates could drive voters to the polls in large numbers.

“It doesn’t look like it’s huge,” Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said about turnout. “Even with those it’s not real huge.”

Corcoran said a lack of contested statewide races on the Democratic side was a major reason for the lack of interest among voters.

“There’s no real statewide races. Nobody votes in the Republican primary,” he said.

Kelty said the state’s late August primary is a main reason for the low turnout. Moving the primary to earlier in the year would like boost turnout, she said.

“I would agree 100 percent with that. If I could pick and choose I think a good time for a primary would be mid-June,” Kelty said. “That would allow ample time for the secretary of state’s office to prepare ballots for the general election.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Hoffer will audit Vermont Health Connect

MONTPELIER — State Auditor Doug Hoffer announced Monday that his office is planning to audit the state’s online health insurance marketplace as the Shumlin administration and its new lead contractor look to fix ongoing technical issues.

Hoffer informed interim Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen in a letter dated Aug. 21 of the pending audit.

Vermont Health Connect, the insurance exchange mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, has been troubled since its October 2013 launch. Thousands of users who need to change information, such as their address or marital status, must undergo a cumbersome manual process rather than the faster, automated way the website was expected to offer.

Additionally, small business employees are still not allowed to enroll through the website and must obtain insurance directly from carriers. That function is now expected to be available next year at the earliest.

Hoffer said Monday that his office will focus on whether the state has plans in place to correct the site’s shortcomings. A number of reports from various independent contractors have highlighted those shortcomings and provided recommendations on how to address them.

Doug Hoffer

Doug Hoffer

“All of them include a number of recommendations and some of them go back to last year. That’s good, in a way, because we can check and see if adjustments were made,” Hoffer said. “We said, ‘Let’s try to be positive and provide info to the administration, the Legislature and the various departments and see how well they’ve responded.”

Hoffer said his review will begin by late September. That will allow time for an ongoing federal review, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, to be completed. There will be “no overlap” between the state and federal reviews, he said.

“We certainly didn’t want to be in their shop at the same time the IG’s folks are there,” Hoffer said.

The state review will not include contracts awarded by the state or money spent on the exchange, according to Hoffer.

“It’s not about contracts at this point. Some of that ground has been pretty heavily plowed,” he said. “Clearly, everybody knows and these reports have documented, that there have been a lot of problems.”

The state audit will involve two to three employees from the auditor’s office and is expected to take months to complete.

“These things are complicated and take a long time. I have yet to see an audit take less than four months — six is more likely,” Hoffer said. “It’s my intention to really encourage folks to find a way to get this done during the [legislative] session. That might involve trimming the objectives to save time.”

Racine out at AHS

MONTPELIER – Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine is being replaced, the Shumlin administration announced Tuesday, as challenges within the agency mount.

According to Shumlin administration officials, current Health Commissioner Harry Chen will replace Racine on an interim basis while a permanent replacement is sought.

“I appreciate Doug’s hard work over three and a half years to help Vermont’s most vulnerable,” Shumlin said in a release.

Doug Racine

Doug Racine

Shumlin touted the agency’s move to a data-driven, results-based planning strategy and a revamped mental health system under Racine’s tenure.

But the agency has faced significant challenges, too. Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace that is overseen by the agency’s Department of Vermont Health Access, has struggled and remains hobbled. And The Department for Children and Families has faced scathing criticism following the recent deaths of several children, allegedly at the hands of caregivers.

“This has been a tough job, but now is the right time to start with new leadership to take the Agency of Human Services forward,” Shumlin said. “I appreciate Dr. Chen’s willingness to get us started on that challenge.”

Harry Chen

Harry Chen

Chen is expected to remain as Interim Secretary of AHS through the end of the year. Deputy Commissioner of Health Tracy Dolan will head the Health Department in his absence.

A full story will appear in Wednesday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

Lawmakers launch new PAC

MONTPELIER — A pair of moderate lawmakers — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — have launched a nonpartisan PAC aimed at electing candidates that seek “fiscal responsibility” and “balanced, common-sense public policies.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, who is not seeking reelection, announced the new political action committee, Vision to Action Vermont, on Monday. The duo, who have worked together on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee for the past four years, say they want to “encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

“I am very excited to launch this new endeavor,” Scheuermann, who flirted with a run for governor earlier this year, said in a press release. “For many years, I have advocated strongly for a long-term, comprehensive strategy for economic growth in Vermont, and this organization will help bring that focus to the forefront.”

Ralston said November’s election is key, with lawmakers set to tackle health care, property taxes and “taxes in general” during the next legislative biennium that will have an impact on the state’s small businesses and families.

Rep. Paul Ralston

Rep. Paul Ralston

“We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy,” he said in the release.

The PAC plans to raise money to support, promote and endorse candidates of all parties “who are committed to policies of true economic growth, and show great leadership, strength, and independence, yet do so with compassion and respect.”

Deadline for AHS reorganization extended

MONTPELIER — Governor Peter Shumlin’s own Pathways from Poverty Council is asking him to allow for public participation before the Agency of Human Services issues its recommendations on how to address systems, policies and procedures within the agency.

As a result, Shumlin’s office says it is planning to extend an Aug. 1 deadline for AHS Secretary Doug Racine to submit a plan to the governor’s office to reorganize the agency. That deadline will now be Oct. 1.

Shumlin’s order for a reorganization plan, along with other more immediate changes he called for in May, came on the heels of the deaths of two children involved with the Department for Children and Families. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides resulting from trauma.

Shumlin said a review and reorganization of DCF is needed because the current department was created from two others in 2004. He said he wants to ensure DCF is focused on its core mission: protecting children and strengthening families. Work not associated with those issues may be reassigned to other parts of state government, according to the governor.

Christopher Curtis

Christopher Curtis

Christopher Curtis, co-chairman of the Pathways from Poverty Council, created by Shumlin through an executive order in December, said council members are aware of ongoing action by a special legislative panel.

“I think the council members became increasingly aware that there’s clearly a public process that the Legislature has undertaken on the questions of child protection. It’s clearly been undertaken with urgency and great concern, as is appropriate,” he said.

But members also want to ensure that any changes made by the administration to DCF also includes input from stakeholders and the public.

“I think many of the stakeholders around the table at the poverty council starting thinking that if there are major policy chances being considered that may have a big ripple effect,” he said.

Council members “wanted to be a part of whatever changes the administration is making,” Curtis said, “rather than just respond to those.”

The council delivered a letter to Racine requesting more time and public input at its Thursday meeting. Shumlin agreed on Friday.

“The Poverty Council has done tremendous work in the past year, helping us formulate smarter, more responsive policies for Vermonters in need,” Shumlin said in a statement. “I am grateful for their work, and appreciate their suggestion that we take more time and receive more input prior to formulating further recommendations regarding the work of the Agency of Human Services and the Department of Children and Families.”

Shumlin said his administration will work with the council on receiving public input.

“I’ve asked Secretary Racine and his Agency team to coordinate with the Poverty Council to ensure we receive strong feedback in this process, and look forward to receiving their further recommendations by October 1st,” Shumlin said in his statement.

Curtis said additional input will help the administration reform the agency in a constructive way.

“We can’t possibly represent all the constituencies out there. Our hope is that this will invite more process … and allow people an opportunity to either write to the governor’s office or write to the secretary,” he said. “I think to open that process will give the administration the benefit of more solutions and informing their decisions.”

Milne admits past health, legal troubles

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne revealed in a statement to reporters Thursday that he was arrested three times in college and suffered a stroke in 2006.

The arrests, two for driving under the influence of alcohol and one for possession marijuana and cocaine, all resulted in convictions. Milne said in a telephone interview Thursday that the cases were “settled as expeditiously as possible without spending money on counsel.”

“I don’t think about them on a daily basis, but my presumption is they are part of the public record,” he said.

In 2006, Milne suffered an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain. He said he has made a full recovery, suffers “very little residual effect,” and has been cleared by doctors to campaign and serve as governor.

“Basically, I have a little bit of numbness on one side of my buddy and that really is about it,” Milne said.

He gave credit for his recovery to his daughter who he said sought immediate medical attention when the stroke occurred.

Milne, who has yet to formally launch his campaign, said he wanted the information about his past to be out in the open. He said facts about his past “might be important and relevant” to supporters.

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

“I think we wanted to get it out. If we started to campaign earlier we would have sent it out a lot earlier,” he said. “It was a consideration when I was weighing whether or not to run.”

Milne, in the statement sent to reporters, said “Vermonters have a right to a governor who is upfront and transparent.” He promised transparency about his personal life as well as the “economic challenges and crisis of affordability we face as a state.”

Brock bows out

MONTPELIER — Republican Randy Brock, the Vermont GOP’s nominee for governor in 2012, announced in an email Sunday that he will not challenge Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin again this year.

Brock, a former state auditor and state senator, had been publicly mulling a run. His decision comes after Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann and former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman already bowed out this year.

Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel, is the only other known Republican considering a run. Milne has said he wants a primary, however.

“I will not be a candidate for Governor of Vermont in 2014,” Brock wrote in his email. “This decision has not been easy to reach. I have arrived at it over several months after careful thought, much input and serious deliberation.”

Brock lost the 2012 race to Shumlin after winning only 38 percent of the vote after putting about $300,000 of his own money into the campaign. Brock said he was not prepared to pump his own cash into a race this year.

He said he is opting out of challenging Shumlin again this year despite persistent urging to do so from supporters.

Randy Brock

Randy Brock

“I am thankful to the many Vermonters who have called upon me to run. I have heard from people from all over our state offering words of encouragement,” he wrote. “This outpouring of support from so many has been extremely heartening and I will always be grateful for their unwavering loyalty.”

Brock, noting that his name will not appear on a ballot for the first time in 10 years, said he will miss being out on the campaign trail. But, sitting the election out “is the right decision for me and my family,” he said.

He pledged to remain “involved in helping to shape public policy.” The former auditor also said he plans “to continue to contribute to the debate through critical analysis and commentary.”

Another exchange deadline to be missed

MONTPELIER — Change of circumstance functionality expected to go live this weekend on Vermont Health Connect will not be deployed as testing continues, according to Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson.

The state’s vendor, CGI, was supposed to have the change of circumstance function live on the health insurance exchange website by May 21 based on an amendment to the original contract. But the state reached an agreement on a revised work plan to extend the deadline to June 8. Now there is a new delay.

“We’re making very good progress on the development of the functionality and we’re close with automated change of circumstance functionality, but have made the decision that it’s not ready to go this weekend into the live environment,” Larson said Friday.

When deployed, the upgrade will allow thousands of Vermonters to edit personal information online if mistakes were made during registration, or if they experienced a life-changing event such as marriage. A backlog of 10,000 requests has amassed since the site launched in October.

“It’s important to us to make sure that the functionality, when it’s ready to go, is ready to serve Vermonters well. So, we’re going to continue our work until we feel like it’s ready to serve Vermonters, and focus on the quality and thoroughness of our work at this point,” Larson said.

Rep. Michael Fisher

Rep. Michael Fisher

The delays are frustrating lawmakers, including House Health Committee Chairman Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln.

“I think this is a really serious problem and I think it’s really an unacceptable situation that we’re in right now. Ten thousand households, many of whom may have small inconsequential changes, a change of address or something, but many of these Vermonters are worried that they’re not going to be able to get the care that they need,” Fisher said.

Continued issues and delays with the exchange site could damage future health care reform efforts, he said.

“I just know that there’s a lot of worry out there and a lot of frustration and I have been hearing a lot of it,” Fisher said. “It really does impact people’s view of our ability to move forward on health care reform.”

Meanwhile, the state is negotiating with a new vendor to help the state deal with the backlog in change of circumstance requests. The backlog increased by about 2,000 requests in the last month or so.

The contract, details of which remain confidential as negotiations continue, was expected to be signed by the end of Friday, Larson said. It will provide additional workers to help users update their information.

“It will help in the ability to have the automated functionality be able to assist in the work of resolving the backlog of change of circumstance requests. It will make it faster, but it will not eliminate the work left to do in making sure that we respond to all of those Vermonters who have made requests,” he said.

State officials expect users will still want assistance in changing information once the functionality is deployed.

“We fully expect that there will be a lot of people who will continue to want assistance in that process and we’ll be able to be more efficient with that,” he said. “It’s still going to take a significant effort to respond to everybody.”

Larson said he would not provide a specific date when testing will be completed and the system can be upgraded. “I think we are hopeful that we will be able to deploy this functionality soon. Again, we really have made a significant amount of progress,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Lisman declines gov bid

MONTPELIER — Campaign for Vermont founder and former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman announced Wednesday he will not launch a bid to unseat Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Lisman, the former chairman of the JP Morgan Chase Global Equity Division, said he was considering a campaign for governor at the urging of Vermonters. But in a statement issued Wednesday Lisman said he will instead focus on advocacy efforts.

“I love Vermont and believe that she faces serious challenges as seldom before in her history,” Lisman said in his statement. “At this time, however, I believe I can best contribute to improving Vermont’s future by publicly and vigorously advocating for a focused, core set of moderate, nonpartisan and common sense government reforms. Indeed, this coalition building effort is the best approach to policy change and consistent with my focus since 2011.”

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman

Wednesday’s announcement follows on the heals of one made by Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, who just last week said she would not seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination and challenge Shumlin, a two-term Democrat.

Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel, and Randy Brock, a former state senator auditor and the GOP’s failed 2012 nominee, are the only other known Republicans considering a run.

Lisman was being viewed by Democrats as a serious challenger. The Vermont Democratic Party in recent months attacked Campaign for Vermont, a group that Lisman has pumped more than $1 million into, for being a conservative organization cloaked as a nonpartisan advocacy group.

Despite declining to run, Lisman’s announcement included an indictment of Shumlin’s tenure as governor, saying Vermonters are concerned about the state’s future. He said he plans to focus on the need for job growth and economic development, comprehensive ethics standards in government, transparency in health care reform and reducing property taxes.

“The vast majority of Vermonters, from all different parts of the state and all different backgrounds, want to see expanded job opportunities and economic growth which stem from a stronger business environment, a return to responsible budget management, ethics standards in government, enhanced transparency, particularly on health care, and a better and more effective education system,” Lisman said.

The plans Lisman laid out in his announcement could set him up for a future run.

“I will focus on showcasing the public’s growing frustration about these issues and the need to implement tangible solutions for true change, change that Vermonters are demanding” he said. “Vermonters have made it clear they are not satisfied with the direction of the state and I will make it my mission to influence citizen-led forward progress.”

Another exchange deadline missed, but state extends timeframe

MONTPELIER — A function missing from Vermont’s online health insurance marketplace will not be added by today’s deadline, but state officials say they are giving the contractor additional time to complete the project before they look to impose penalties.

Under an amended contract signed in early April, tech giant CGI was required to deliver “change of circumstance” functionality by today. The upgrade would allow thousands of Vermonters to edit their personal information online if mistakes are made during registration, or if they experience a life-changing event such as marriage.

But progress remains slow, and the function remains in testing, according to Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access.

“We will not have the change of circumstances functionality tomorrow,” Larson said Tuesday.

Mark Larson

Mark Larson

Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace required under the federal Affordable Care Act, launched in October with serious deficiencies. Users are still unable to edit their information, and small businesses must enroll directly with the state’s insurers because the website is not functional for them.

The ability for individuals to make online payments for premiums was added in early March. Prior to that, payment had to be mailed in by check.

Larson said the “change of circumstance” upgrade has been postponed, likely until June, because it is not ready to be integrated into the website.

“We’re not going to implement any new functionality until we’re sure that it’s ready and fully tested,” he said.

“After careful consideration and reflecting on what we’ve learned over the past few months … I expect that we will agree to push the expected delivery date for change of circumstance to June 8,” Larson said. “I think that is a more realistic time frame for the functionality to be completed the way we would expect to.”

The state is allowing the use of a provision in the $84 million contract with CGI that allows for a change in deadlines if both parties agree. Larson said he expects the formal agreement to be signed today, setting the new June 8 deadline.

The state, by agreeing to a change in date, is also pushing back when it can begin to collect on the financial penalties it is allowed to assess for late delivery, according to the contract. Under the contract, the state can take a 12.5 percent discount on the cost of the function.

CGI can “earn” back some pay, however, depending on how quickly it completes each task after a missed deadline. Completion within seven days will allow for a 50 percent reduction in the penalty. Completion within 14 days will allow CGI to earn back 25 percent of the penalty, and completion within 28 days will allow for a 10 percent reduction in the penalty.

Those penalties will not be available until after June 8, if the agreement between the state and CGI is signed.

“By agreeing to a change in date we agree that those penalties will be applied if the delivery is not accomplished on June 8,” Larson said. “The penalties are all triggered by the agreed-upon date.”

Larson said June 8, “is more realistic” for upgrading the site and adding change of circumstance.

“Vermonters have the appropriate expectation that that function be available to them, and I know that Vermonters are frustrated by that not being there today,” he said. “I share that frustration and have a responsibility (to develop) a plan that is most likely to be successful and I think the change is consistent with that.”

Larson said the state will look to assess financial penalties if the new date is not met.

“I believe that the plan to achieve success is more likely with the change of date,” he said. “We aren’t eliminating any of our ability to impose financial penalties. We reserve all of those rights in the contract.”

The amended contract, signed in April, also requires CGI to deliver the small business enrollment function by July 2. No changes have been made to that deadline.

“We are still evaluating that. We’ve made no change there, though,” Larson said. “That date still stands, right now.”

A spokeswoman for CGI did not respond to phone and email messages Tuesday.