• Audit planned of Health Connect remedies
     | August 26,2014

    MONTPELIER — State Auditor Doug Hoffer said Monday that his office is planning to audit the state’s online health insurance marketplace as the Shumlin administration and its new lead contractor look to fix ongoing technical issues.

    Hoffer said his office will focus on whether the state has plans in place to correct the site’s shortcomings. He told interim Human Services Secretary Harry Chen of the pending audit in a letter dated Aug. 21.

    Vermont Health Connect, the insurance exchange mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, has been troubled since its October launch. Thousands of users who need to change information, such as their address or marital status, must undergo a cumbersome manual process rather than the faster, automated way the website was expected to offer.

    Additionally, small business employees are still not allowed to enroll through the website and must obtain insurance directly from carriers. That function is expected to be available next year at the earliest.

    A number of reports from various independent contractors have highlighted the shortcomings and provided recommendations on how to address them, Hoffer said.

    “All of them include a number of recommendations, and some of them go back to last year. That’s good, in a way, because we can check and see if adjustments were made,” Hoffer said. “We said, ‘Let’s try to be positive and provide information to the administration, the Legislature and the various departments and see how well they’ve responded.”

    Gov. Peter Shumlin fired CGI, the state’s original contractor, this month. Another firm, Optum, has secured a $15.1 million contract to help the state address the “change of circumstance” request backlog and other operational issues.

    Hoffer said his review will begin by late September. The delay will allow time for an ongoing federal review, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, to be completed. There will be “no overlap” between the state and federal reviews, he said.

    George Nedder, an audit manager with HHS, did not return a message seeking comment Monday.

    The state review will not include the contracts awarded to CGI or Optum or money — nearly all federal funds — spent on the exchange, according to Hoffer.

    “It’s not about contracts at this point,” he said. “Some of that ground has been pretty heavily plowed. Clearly, everybody knows, and these reports have documented, that there have been a lot of problems.”

    The state audit will involve two or three employees from the auditor’s office and is expected to take months.

    “These things are complicated and take a long time,” Hoffer said. “I have yet to see an audit take less than four months — six is more likely. It’s my intention to really encourage folks to find a way to get this done during the (legislative) session. That might involve trimming the objectives to save time.”

    Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said the administration will provide Hoffer’s team the information it needs to complete its work.

    “It’s a good idea for anything of this scale,” Miller said. “Certainly we’ll be fully cooperative. I think we’ve done a lot of work to implement the various recommendations, and it certainly never hurts to have an extra view of that. Some things are more easily implemented than others, and I’m sure there will be additional recommendations that come out of it.”

    @Tagline:neal.goswami @timesargus.com

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