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.”