Federal Audit Finds More Vermont Health Connect Startup Woes

By | March 11, 2016

A new federal audit of the first six months of operations of Vermont Health Connect details how the system failed to meet several federal requirements designed to ensure that people who sought health insurance through the system were qualified to receive those benefits.

The Department of Health and Human Services audit dated Wednesday looked at the period between Oct. 1, 2013, when the website first went live, and March 31, 2014.

Nine areas included what has been the well-documented issue of the system’s inability to process changes in a person’s circumstances, such as the birth of a child or a marriage. Other failures included failing to properly verify Social Security numbers, family income, or the incarceration status of the applicant.

The audit by the Office of Inspector General did not attempt to determine if as a result anyone received coverage or a tax benefit they were not entitled to or if anyone was denied coverage or subsidies they were supposed to get.

“While certainly some people went through the process unscathed, there were many others who had problems throughout the process,” said Amy Frontz, assistant inspector general for audit services for DHHS.

Vermont officials acknowledged the deficiencies found by the audit. They said similar audits of other states and the federal exchange found similar problems. They said much has changed in the almost two years since the period covered by the audit even though much remains to be done, such as providing a seamless customer service experience for the system’s website users.

“Every step of the way has been a tremendous improvement over the previous period on making this system truly functional in an integrated way for Vermonters,” Steven Costantino, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said Wednesday after his office received the report.

Vermont Health Connect is the state’s online marketplace, where people compare and buy health insurance plans as part of the national health care law. After its Oct. 1, 2013, startup it was plagued with well-publicized problems, prompting the state to make a series of work-arounds, including allowing small businesses to work directly with health insurance providers to make sure employees had health insurance.

The Vermont audit was one of seven done of the 15 states that were running their own health care exchanges. It looked at 45 randomly selected applications out of the 24,865 applications that were received by Vermont Health Connect between Oct. 1 2013, and March 31, 2014.

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