Peter Shumlin, Shap Smith react swiftly, severely to Larson apology

Peter Shumlin

Peter Shumlin

In an unprecedented public dressing-down of a sitting member of his executive cabinet, Peter Shumlin today said he’s “tremendously disappointed” in a commissioner who withheld information lawmakers about a security breach on the new health insurance website.

House Speaker Shap Smith, meanwhile, said the incident will undermine Mark Larson’s ability to work with the legislative branch on the massive health care reform efforts that Larson’s department is spearheading.

To see Larson’s apology, and statements in full from Shumlin and Smith, click on the document links below.

“I take this incident extremely seriously. It is unacceptable to be anything less than fully cooperative and transparent with Vermonters and their elected representatives in the Legislature,” Shumlin said in a written statement issued earlier this morning.  “The legislators in Montpelier represent the Vermonters we are all elected to serve, and they have a right to have their questions answered fully. That did not happen in this case, and I have made clear to Mark and other members of my administration that it must never happen again.”

At issue is Larson’s resopnse to a question from Republican Rep. Mary Morrissey during a meeting of the House Committee on Health Care earlier this month. The Bennington lawmaker sought information about an alleged security breach on Vermont Health Connect, and Larson responded by saying that no such breach had occurred. In fact, his office had notified the federal government just weeks earlier about an incident in which the social security of one person usnig Vermont Health Connect was inadvertently supplied to another user on the system.

Larson said in a written statement today that the incident did not involve an “external” breach of secure information, but acknowledged he should have been more forthcoming.

Shumlin said he takes Larson at his word when he said he did not mean to “deceive.” House Speaker Shap Smith, however, said the incident will “undermine” Larson’s ability to be a credible broker of information with lawmakers.

“I have spoken with Commissioner Larson and Governor Shumlin and have shared with them my view that this incident is unacceptable.  I have also expressed my view that a breach such as this will undermine Commissioner Larson’s ability to be an effective representative for the administration in the Legislature,” Smith said in a statement.

Larson formerly chaired the committee to which he’s been accused of lying, a post he was appointed to by Smith. Larson, who served in the Legislature as a Democrat from Burlington,  left that chairmanship when Shumlin offered him a job as commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access.

“It is now incumbent on Commissioner Larson to work to rebuild the trust he once had with his legislative colleagues,” Smith said.

Check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald for a full coverage of this story by Dave Gram, the Associated Press reporter who broke news of the security breach last Friday.

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