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Consumers struggle to connect to Vermont Health Connect - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Consumers struggle to connect to Vermont Health Connect

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

"Vermont Health Connect is working as we expected on day one," said Mark Larson, the Vt. health access commissioner.

Vermont administrators touted the health exchange's opening day. About 5,500 unique users visited the page by 2 p.m. and call centers chatted with more than 600 people.

UPDATE: As of 11 a.m. Oct. 2, Vermont Health Connect reports 13,000 unique visitors to the VHC website and just over 780 user accounts established.

Brenda Badger, 60, of Moretown, decided to speak to a navigator in person to clarify how to report her income. She cashed out a 401(k) last year to cover costs of cancer treatment, but feared that might affect her subsidy eligibility.

"I need something that's going to cover me for those surgeries and you know, not a big deductible because there's no way I would be able to pay that," Badger said.

Navigators showed her how to file based on expected income rather than 2012's tax return, opening up affordable coverage-- though she's not ready to sign up just yet.

Donna Patterson of Middlebury is though. She's headed to Florida for the winter and health coverage is the last item on her to-do list.

"I think I've chosen the golden plan," she said.

Patterson says with subsidies, the plan she picked at Blue Cross Blue Shield Tuesday is a tad cheaper than the coverage she had through Catamount. But the exchange's slow connection speeds prevented her from registering and officially selecting her choice, so she filed the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

"As of right now I'm in the system," she said.

Larson says they're also experiencing difficulty with the side-by-side plan comparison feature. But he says considering the size and scope of the project, slowness is a relatively mundane, easily fixed problem.

"We went into day one knowing we would face some challenges and not really knowing what they might be," Larson said. "And we appreciate that these are some areas where we can improve going into day two."

Critics of the exchange say they still haven't seen proof the website actually works.

Despite its online nature, the exchange does have business hours. It will operate between 6 a.m. and midnight daily.

Navigators say the most common questions they got Tuesday were if the federal government's shutdown will have an effect-- the answer is no. People also wanted to know if the shutdown will affect Medicare recipients-- which is also a no. And, of course, what the coverage is going to cost people.

Vermont Health Connect website -- healthconnect.vermont.gov

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