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.
“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.”