Tag Archives: Mark Larson

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.

 

Optum report critical of state, CGI

Vermont’s top health care reform officials are planning a roundtable meeting with reporters this morning to discuss a report by Optum that is critical of both the state and CGI.

Included in the report:

Optum has concluded, based review of the VHC’s Program Management documentation and interviews with both SOV and contractor staff, that the project’s Program Management structure and processes contributed to SOV’s lack of project ownership and CGI’s lack of accountability. Additionally, project
management processes within the program, do not align with industry best practices and are insufficient or ineffective.

As a result CGI has not met its commitments in the contract and the project has not met the expectations of the SOV. The project team’s ability to deliver the remaining contractual requirements is a ‘High’ risk, and as such, immediate corrective action is required.

 

Read the report below:

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

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.

State, CGI sign amended contract with new timeline and penalties

MONTPELIER — State officials and the contractor building Vermont Health Connect have signed off on a new agreement that sets a new schedule for launching missing functions and includes additional financial penalties for missed deadlines.

The amended contract with tech giant CGI was signed Tuesday by Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson and Gregg Mossburg, a senior vice president with the firm.

Under the amended contract, CGI must deliver “change of circumstance” functionality by May 21. By July 2, small business functionality must be operational. Failure to deliver by those dates will result in new financial penalties on top of the $5 million in “liquidated damages” the state has already claimed for CGI’s incomplete work.

“We really were trying to define an achievable road map and pair it with payment provisions and financial accountability so that we have an achievable plan and one that preserves for the state accountability for the success of that plan,” Larson said Thursday.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace required under the federal Affordable Care Act, launched last October with serious deficiencies. Users are still unable to edit their information, and small businesses must enroll directly with the state’s two insurers because the website is not functional for them. The ability to make online payments for premiums was finally added in early March.

Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Miller, tapped by Gov. Peter Shumlin in January to assist the beleaguered exchange team, said the previous contract with CGI “contemplated getting through development by October and everything being neat and clean.”

But late last year, after reviewing the state’s options, Miller and others began negotiating with CGI on a new contract that would help complete the project. Despite calls by Republicans to dump CGI, state officials determined that developing a new path with CGI was the best solution.

“There was this sort of fundamental question after December of do we finish the project with CGI or do we find somebody else. It was really clear, talking to other organizations and folks who have done this before, that the disruption of change, trying to change contractors, greatly exceeded the risk of negotiating a revised agreement and a revised path to done,” Miller said.

Massachusetts and the federal government have opted to drop CGI in favor of other tech firms. Other states are working with their contractors to redefine tasks and goals.

“When I’ve talked to people around the country, they are doing a combination of amendments to contracts and replacement of vendors. Everybody’s taking a slightly different approach. We did not consult with other states on the specifics of this,” Miller said.

Both sides “were pretty well firm on what was important to them,” according to Miller, but main components of the negotiated amendment “were not in substantial conflict.”

“Both parties wanted to finish the work and both parties recognized that this would be done in stages now,” he said.

Continue reading

Small biz direct enrollment to last through 2015 open enrollment

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration told lawmakers Tuesday that small businesses will have the option to continue directly enrolling in health care insurance plans during the next open enrollment period slated for this fall.

Director of Health Care Reform Robin Lunge delivered the update to the Senate Finance Committee early Tuesday afternoon. Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, delivered the same message later to the House Health Care Committee.

“The good news that I have is that the feds have approved the ability for us to continue with direct enrollment moving forward through the 2015 open enrollment period for 2016 plans and our intention is to allow this as an additional option,” Lunge said.

Direct enrollment with the state’s two insurance carriers was a contingency plan offered by Gov. Peter Shumlin when the state’s federally mandated online insurance marketplace, Vermont Health Connect, failed to function properly at launch last October. Small businesses were able to bypass the exchange and deal directly with insurers.

Employees of small businesses with 50 or fewer employees are required by state statute to obtain health insurance through Vermont Health Connect. But the website still does not allow for online enrollment. Administration officials say they expect it to be working when the 2015 open enrollment period begins in October.

Larson said the direct enrollment option is in no way an indication that the exchange website will still not be fully functional by October. Rather, it provides Vermonters with additional ways to enroll in qualified health insurance plans, he said.

However, direct enrollment with insurance carriers provides a limited choice of insurance plans. Individual using the website can choose from 18 plans between the two carriers. Small business employees can only choose from four plans.

Larson said the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, which has approved the state’s request to continue direct enrollment, “is mindful of employee choice.” Larson said conversations with insurers are taking place to try and expand options.

“They are very interested in making sure that employees have the greatest ability to have choice in their plans as possible. That will be one of the conversations that we have, is how to do direct enrollment so employees continue to have access to as many plans as possible through their employer.”

House Health Care Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Fisher, following Larson’s appearance, said he is happy the direct enrollment option will be preserved for the next enrollment period.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that this piece of IT structure or that piece will be ready in time, and so I don’t have any confidence that anything is going to work until I see it working,” he said. “I think Vermonters are comfortable going through the carriers directly and I’m pleased that the administration moved to a place that is supporting that. So, I think that’s a good thing.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Online payments go live on state exchange

MONTPELIER — The state’s online health insurance marketplace is now accepting payment online for premiums, the Shumlin administration announced Monday.

Individual Vermonters enrolling in insurance plans on Vermont Health Connect, the online marketplace mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, can now pay for monthly premiums online, according to the Department of Vermont Health Access. The site underwent an upgrade over the weekend, officials said.

Small businesses will continue to enroll directly through the state’s two insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP Health Care.

The payment system will now allow Vermonters to pay premiums with a debit card, credit card or direct deposit from a bank account in addition to paper checks.

“This is great news for all Vermonters using VHC to enroll in health plans. Paying online provides convenience for Vermonters, and we’re pleased this functionality is now up and running. Our focus over the next month is to continue to enroll Vermonters through VHC,” DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson said in a statement.

Administration officials said additional system upgrades over the weekend will allow VHC staff to better process applications and provide a better overall experience for users.

The addition of online payments comes months after the site launched last Oct. 1. At launch, the site experienced significant technological failures that prevented most users from selecting plans. Small businesses can still not enroll on the site and must do so directly through insurers.

GOP leaders seek federal investigation into exchange

MONTPELIER — Republican leaders in the Legislature are seeking a federal investigation into Vermont Health Connect based on an anonymous tip that a state contractor duped state officials last year.

House Minority Leader Don Turner of Milton and Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning of Caledonia County sent a letter Wednesday to Tristram Coffin, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, requesting the investigation. The request is based on “whistleblower allegations alleging a fraudulent software demonstration on July 26, 2013 by CGI Technologies & Solutions.”

Newsweek published an article earlier this month in which an anonymous source said a demonstration by CGI last July designed to show connectivity with the state’s online insurance marketplace with a federal data hub was faked.

The exchange site, for which CGI has an $84 million contract to build, is still not fully functional, the GOP leaders wrote in their letter.

“We believe the unexplained and extensive delay, coupled with evidence suggesting the company in charge of designing the system may have duped Vermont officials into incorrectly thinking that the software system was working and on schedule, constitutes sufficient legal and factual predicate to begin a federal investigation,” they wrote. “If true, such a fraud prevented state officials from performing proper contractual oversight, prevented corrective measures, and helped CGI retain its multi-million dollar contract with the state.”

Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, has maintained that the July demonstration did feature a live connection with the federal data hub.

Linda F. Odorisio, vice president of communications for CGI, said in an emailed statement Wednesday evening that the demonstration did connect the state site to the federal hub.

“CGI confirms that the demonstration conducted on July 26, 2013 included a live interface to the Federal Data Services Hub, with the real time sending and receiving of data,” she wrote.

DVHA reveals second privacy breach

MONTPELIER — A state official revealed a second privacy breach Tuesday involving users on the state’s online health exchange but said the minor incident was caused by human error and did not involve a technology breakdown.

Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, told the Health Care Oversight Committee Tuesday of the “privacy incident,” but said there was no “security breach.” Rather, a Vermont Health Connect representative made a human error, he said.

“This incident was isolated to two unique Vermont Health Connect users. It was a result of manual human customer service error and there was not a risk to other Vermont Health Connect users,” Larson said. “The issue has been investigated by Vermont Health Connect. We have made the appropriate reporting to CMS as we did in the other incident that was discussed prior.”

The privacy breach did not involve any outside intrusion into secure parts of the website or any type of hacking, Larson said.

The disclosure for the weekend incident was in stark contract to a first security breach revealed in November. Larson, when asked directly at a Nov. 5 House Health Care Committee hearing about security lapses, said no private information had been breached.

However, a records request made by the Associated Press revealed the department knew of a security breach about three weeks before Larson’s testimony to the House Health Care Committee. Larson’s vague answers to the committee earned a rare public rebuke from Gov. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith.

According to Larson, in the weekend incident a user called VHC to modify an application. The customer service representative attached information from another user with the exact same name to the caller’s file, he said.

Check the Wednesday editions of the Herald and Times Argus for the full story.

Documents spotlight state’s escalating fight with exchange contractor

In a sternly worded letter to a top executive at the technology firm hired to build Vermont’s new health insurance exchange, the Shumlin administration late last month served notice that it plans to withhold more than $5 million in payments as a result of CGI’s “failure” to meet key deadlines.

The Nov. 21 correspondence represents the first formal move by the state to impose the “liquidated damages” that CGI Technologies and Solutions could face for missing at least four “critical milestones.”

Larson_letter1

Larson_letter2

And it comes as the state seeks new bargaining power over the company on which it’s relying to fix the problems that will otherwise prevent Vermont from having a fully functioning exchange.

“What we’re focused on now is making sure we exercise the rights we have under the contract … and making sure Vermonters get what they were promised,” Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said in a phone interview Tuesday. Continue reading

Some exchange bills to be mailed, online payment still unavailable

MONTPELIER — State officials said Monday that online functions to process premiums the health care plans selected by individuals and families on the state’s exchange will be deployed overnight for a Tuesday launch.

Online credit card payment is still not ready, however. That function will not launch until security testing is completed, according to Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson.

Invoices will be mailed later this week to individuals and families who have selected plans through the exchange. Those bills will need to be paid by check no later than Jan. 7 for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

The deployment of premium processing function is set to begin at 5 p.m. on Monday. The Vermont Health Connect website will be unavailable for applications and plan selection during the deployment, according to officials. The site is expected to be down until late Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the payment function for small businesses remains in testing.

As a result, small businesses and their employees who have selected health coverage through VHC will have current coverage extended into 2014 at 2013 rates until the payment function for small businesses is operational, officials said. Deductibles and out of pocket costs on all extended plans will reset on Jan. 1. Any expenditures will be credited to employees’ new exchange plan in 2014 as long as the carrier remains the same.

About 1,400 small businesses who have signed up for health coverage through the website online, over the phone, with a navigator or through a paper application are affected. Those businesses employ about 13,400 people.

Small businesses that have already elected to extend 2013 coverage or directly enroll through an insurance carrier into an exchange plan, or small businesses that chose to have their carrier roll them into an exchange plan that most closely resembles their current coverage are not impacted.

Check Tuesday’s Herald and Times Argus for the full story.

Larson testimony was contrary to report filed with federal officials

MONTPELIER — Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson unequivocally denied any security breaches within Vermont Health Connect to lawmakers earlier this month, information that was contrary to what he apparently knew at the time of his testimony before the House Health Care Committee.

Larson penned a letter of apology over the discrepancy to the committee’s chairman on Sunday, which was made public by the Shumlin administration on Monday.

Larson was peppered with questions by Republican Rep. Mary Morrissey during a Nov. 5 hearing about Vermont Health Connect, the state’s version of the online health insurance marketplaces required under the federal Affordable Care Act. Morrissey was inquiring about security concerns with the website.

bilde

The Bennington Republican said she had heard of security breaches and asked Larson if any users’ personal information had been accessed in an unauthorized way.

Larson responded unequivocally that no security breaches had occurred.

“We have no situations where somebody’s private information has been breached,” he said. “We have looked into and we have found no situation where somebody’s private information has been breached.”

Seemingly unconvinced, Morrissey tried again: “There has been none?” she
asked.

“Yes. We have done the appropriate investigation of each case. We’ve identified … we have investigated each one. We have followed our appropriate privacy and security procedures,” Larson responded.

In his apology letter, Larson acknowledged in his response to those questions his failure to include information about one particular case, first reported on Friday by the Associated Press.

“During the November 5th committee hearing, I was asked about whether any security failures had occurred in Vermont Health Connect. I responded that no situation had occurred where somebody’s private information had been breached. I then attempted to clarify that we had investigated all reports and followed appropriate procedures. I should have instead also included in my response the facts of this single incident, and am sorry that my statements to the committee did not do so,” Larson wrote.

The AP reported Friday that Larson’s department knew of a security breach about three weeks before his testimony to the House Health Care Committee. His office had notified the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about an incident in which the social security number of one person using Vermont Health Connect was inadvertently supplied to another user on the system.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who spoke with reporters Monday at an unrelated event, said the breach was the result of two users with similar user names.

“One of them got the other one’s information and alerted us to that fact. It was not an external security breach where people can go in and see other people’s information,” Shumlin said.

The governor said he became aware of Larson’s testimony “in the last couple of days by reading about it in the press.” Despite Larson’s “lapse in judgment,” Shumlin said the commissioner maintains his full support.

“I have absolute confidence in Commissioner Larson. He’s under tremendous pressure. They all are at Vermont Health Connect. He’s doing an extraordinary job there, working long hours, seven days a week. They’ll continue to get that website right and get good results,” Shumlin said.

The governor said he did not at any point consider asking Larson to resign his post.

“It’s as simple as this: We all make mistakes. None of us are immune to making mistakes. Commissioner Larson has acknowledged he made a mistake. He viewed the question, differently than, I think, objectively, many of us would have. I take Mark at his word that he made a mistake. We’re all capable of them. I make them, too. We go forward from here,” Shumlin said.

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

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.” Continue reading

Administration reveals exchange delay plan

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration released details Friday on how it plans to handle short-term insurance policies resulting from a three-month delay in the state-level mandate for insurance coverage on Vermont Health Connect.

Both individuals and small businesses can now extend current plans up to three months to March 31 while maintaining current 2013 rates. Individuals who have received notification from their insurance carrier that a current policy will be canceled can extend the plan.

Deductibles for current plans will reset on Jan. 1 as they typically would for a new plan year. Accepting a plan extension into 2014 is essentially a short plan year, administration officials said.

However, any deductible amounts and out-of-pocket expenses paid during the short extension period will be applied to a new 2014 exchange plan as long as the insurance carrier remains the same, officials said.

Additional changes have added the option for small businesses to enroll in exchange plans directly through MVP or Blue Cross. Administration officials said Friday that small businesses will soon receive a notice from their insurance carrier with information about the exchange plan closest to their current plan. Businesses choosing to enroll in that plan will be automatically rolled into it and billed.

Businesses that want to select a different plan, enroll themselves on the exchange or switch insurance carriers will have to contact their current carrier by Nov. 25.

To avoid any lapse in coverage, small businesses must select a “plan menu” for employees by Feb. 1, and employees will need to select a plan by Feb. 28 for April 1 coverage.

Meanwhile, Vermonters on Vermont Health Access Plan or Catamount who do not qualify for Medicaid in 2014 will have their plans automatically extended to March 31. The administration has previously said they would take steps to reach out to those Vermonters and assist them on enrolling in an exchange plan before the end of the year.

A fact sheet is available here.

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

VHC

In September report, Shumlin administration told of “critical” problems with insurance exchange

Acknowledging the severity of the technological glitches in Vermont’s new health insurance website, Gov. Peter Shumlin Thursday issued a surprise announcement extending the deadline by which residents will have to enroll for policies in the new marketplace.

But key members of the administration have known since at least the middle of September of defects in Vermont Health Connect, some of which, they were told by outside consultants, were potentially substantial enough to derail the enrollment timeline.

In a 192-slide Power Point presentation, conducted on Sept. 11 and 12 and prepared at the behest of the federal government, managers at the Department of Vermont Health Access detailed a range of “risks” in the online marketplace, and presented “workarounds,” “mitigation” plans, and “contingencies.”

The so-called “Operational Readiness Review” also includes a presentation from Gartner, Inc., a Connecticut-based tech consultant hired to review the website. Gartner concluded that Vermont Health Connect should be given “RED” status – as opposed to ‘yellow’ or ‘green’ – “due to significant risks to meeting the October 1st deadline for Go-Live.”

The most “critical risks,” according to Gartner:

  • “Time in the schedule to remediate errors found in testing is minimal and unexpected difficulty in resolving system issues will put the schedule at risk. Concurrent System and User Acceptance Testing will be occurring in the Staging environment, which creates complexities in test execution (data management; user management; etc.).”
  • “The project schedule continues to be compressed as environment availability issues delay deployment and testing. Additional delays will put the Go-Live date of 10/1 in jeopardy. The project schedule must be updated to account for delays and changes immediately communicated to project stakeholders to determine resource and schedule impact.”
  • “Delivery of the production environments has been delayed and there is a risk there will not be sufficient time remaining in the project schedule to adequately test or address defects, potentially delaying the ability to go live on 10/1. Significant configuration issues delayed the availability of development environments and the production environments are significantly more complex.”

Verbiage used in the Gartner analysis is typical of the technolog-ese employed through the slide show, a copy of which is attached below. The document was requested first from the administration by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock.

Portions of the slide show – provided to the Vermont Press Bureau in a separate records request – have been redacted, because they contain information that could compromise the security of the site.

The slide show also features concerns about things like insufficient training for navigators; the ability of consumers to enroll through the web; and the lack of in-house manpower that might be needed to deal with the volume of paper applications in the event of online dysfunction.

That the administration knew about possible defects on the site isn’t revelatory – Shumlin, his health care czar Robin Lunge, and Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson have long said there would “hiccups” and “bumps in the road.”

More surprising, perhaps, is the confidence Shumlin was conveying publicly as recently as last week, when he told a gaggle of skeptical reporters that everything was under control. Amid growing concern over problems being encountered by small businesses and individuals, Shumlin reassured the press that his team would have the problems solved in time to meet the Jan. 1 deadline by which Vermonters needed to have new plans, lest their existing policies lapse.

The new deadline gives residents until March 31 to make the transition, and will allow them to renew their existing policies for another three months. That move has prompted its own set of questions, including whether or not people who take advantage of the extension will be subject to a full yearly deductible for the three-month extension, or if it will be pro-rated based on the length of the term.

Asked on Vermont Edition today by Bob Kinzel whether he knew ahead of time how problematic the roll out might be, Shumlin said “we did not know the magnitude the challenges we were going to face.”

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