Vermonters will soon be able to complete online applications with Vermont Health Connect, but they still won't be able to pay for their insurance through the web site.
"We will begin the deployment of the payment and enrollment functionality for individuals and families," said Vt. Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson on Monday.
After weeks of problems with Vermont Health Connect, Larson says there is progress. Starting Tuesday Vermonters will be able to select -- and pay for -- healthcare coverage by check. People who already made a selection will be getting a bill. Also, people who qualify for aid can now get financial help. To accommodate all the fixes the web site will be off line Monday evening and is expected to be back up Tuesday by midday. "I think that that is clearly a milestone and a significant step forward," Larson said.
A step forward but a month later than Governor Shumlin's November 1 deadline. And people still can't pay by credit card. Larson is not sure when the online payment function will work -- it's still being tested. Also still left out are small businesses who need to sign up. Larson says they still can't pay and there's no date set for when they will be able to. "We need to make sure that all of that information sharing across all of those different steps across all the different scenarios for small businesses is working correctly," Larson said.
Because of the web site problems the state says people now have until March to sign up, three months later then the original January deadline. The goal is to make sure there is no gap in coverage.
But critics were quick to react Monday. Darcie Johnston with the group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom questioned if Larson's announcement is really progress. She again called for a year delay and said in a statement, "This release is purely political. The commissioner wants to show forward progress - reality be damned. Since October Vermonters have been subject to a weekly drip of the failures of this ill conceived and poorly managed scheme."
Out of the 21,000 online applications, right now only about 7,000 are complete. Vermonters who choose a plan by December 23rd and pay for it by January 7th will lock in coverage for January 1st.