Vermont Health Connect is set to launch Tuesday. "We will go live with a new online marketplace for Vermonters to be able to compare health insurance plans side-by-side, to be able to access financial help if they qualify, and for them to be able to enroll in a plan that will provide coverage for themselves and their families," said Vt. Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson.
The marketplace is designed to make sure all Vermonters have access to health insurance and was born from the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
"We are very concerned that 'go live' is never going to go live and that Vermonters are in Jeopardy of not having healthcare coverage come January 1st," said Darcie Johnston with Vermonters for Healthcare Freedom. He group is calling for the program's implementation to be pushed back a year -- citing IT problems. The Shumlin administration is now paying the IT company, CGI, $84 million - twice the original contract. And CGI has missed key deadlines for starting the new web based exchange, including not being able to accept payments until November. "This is an incredibly expensive IT system that is overbuilt, that doesn't work, and the Governor needs to tell Vermonters what's what," Johnston said.
Tuesday Johnston's group will start reaching out to Vermonters with phone calls, encouraging them to voice their concerns.
Mark Larson says he and his team are testing the online exchange around the clock and that it's ready to roll. He says a month delay in allowing Vermonters to pay for insurance is not a big concern since coverage does go into effect until January first. He challenges recent criticisms from opponents, like former GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock, who say the system is not ready. "I wouldn't be able to stand here today if we were not able to connect to the federal data hub and share information securely with it, so I feel that is one example of a statement that was made that was not accurate," Larson said.
The Vermont Health Connect website is already seeing about 20,000 hits a week. Larson says the state is ready for additional traffic Tuesday morning when roughly 70 people will staff the call center designed to help people navigate their health coverage options. "We have worked hard to make sure that on day one, Vermonters will be pleased with the product we are putting out there, but we also expect their feedback," Larson said.
Larson says people who choose a plan Tuesday can expect to be billed in about a month. He expects about 100,000 people to sign up for private plans this calendar year.
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