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Audit casts deep shadow over Vermont Health Connect - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Audit casts deep shadow over Vermont Health Connect

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

An audit released Thursday casts a deep shadow of doubt over Vermont's ability to create a fully functioning health exchange. But members of the governor's administration remain confident problems can be fixed.

The state audit of Vermont Health Connect's release arrives more than a year and a half after the launch of the continually troubled health exchange. Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer says the system remains rife with problems.

"We received a great deal of federal money to help build the exchange, but going forward, at some point, it's on us," Hoffer said.

Hoffer says manual workarounds for broken or undelivered programming are expensive, and criticizes state payment small business services despite shelving that part of the exchange. Problems are compounded by what he calls unnecessarily complicated billing schemes that are leaving customers and carriers in the lurch.

"Confusing is charitable," Hoffer said.

In late March, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, said the state would transition to the federal marketplace if two key upgrades missed deadline. The first arrives at the end of May, when the patch to allow the site to automatically process small policy changes is due. The second falls at the beginning of November, and would allow the system to automatically renew customers.

"Those two deadlines-- self-imposed deadlines-- are absolutely critical," Hoffer said.

Hoffer says the state is at high risk of missing the mark, especially the first.

"I am optimistic because we are on schedule," Vt. Health Reform Chief Lawrence Miller said. "That doesn't mean we couldn't fall off-schedule."

Miller now characterizes June 1 as a milestone, while noting missing it would seriously jeopardize the November date. He says the timeline is tight, but they'll make it, barring the discovery of a bug in the programming or a virus that strikes the office, forcing the programmers to stay home. Miller says staff are committed and working together.

He highlights the progress noted in the auditor's report.

"I find the audit to be very consistent with my observations and I feel good about the work that's being done to address the underlying concerns," Miller said.

Hoffer calls for more reports to the Legislature, a cost-benefit analysis of a potential transition to the federal exchange and tighter contracts in the future. He says he's cautiously optimistic, but also says Vermont's history with the project does not inspire faith-- but for Hoffer and Miller, neither does a federal transition, which would come with its own costs and fall short of solving all of Vermont's problems.

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