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September 30, 2013

Morning Read: VT Health Connect's Bumpy Ride on the Yellow Brick Road

6a00d83451b91969e2019aff7820cf970c-800wiThere's nothing worse than missing a major deadline — and that's doubly true when everyone is watching, especially your political opponents, who are so hoping you blow it.

Vermont Health Connect, the state's health insurance exchange created to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, is scheduled to launch tomorrow. But officials have already announced that the exchange will not be able to accept payments until Nov. 1. That's because, as VT Digger's Andrew Stein reported on Friday, CGI Systems and Technologies, the vendor hired to build critical components of the state's new health insurance exchange, fell badly behind in getting the job done.

Now it appears the Shumlin administration doubled down on its bet on CGI, signing an amended $84 million contract with the IT company — twice the value of the original contract — despite the fact that the company missed some key deadlines for implementing the new web-based exchange. As Stein writes:

The administration said CGI has failed to meet more than half of Vermont’s 21 performance deadlines, called “critical milestones.” Although the state has the contractual power to penalize CGI for falling behind schedule, it has not exercised this authority.

The state could charge CGI as much as $125,000 a day in penalties, depending on the length of the delay and the importance of the milestone.

Shumlin's critics were quick to jump on the bad news about Obamacare. In a long but cogent Sunday editorial on VT Digger, the former Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock likened the story of Vermont Health Connect to the Wizard of Oz, where, despite the illusion of an all-powerful wizard, there's nothing behind the curtain "but a little old con artist, who has no magical powers at all."

As Brock writes:

[D]espite the multimillion dollar advertising campaign, despite the governor’s promise that everything is working fine and the system is on target, nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is this: The system doesn’t work.

It can’t reliably communicate error-free with the federal data hub. It can’t talk to Vermont’s only three insurers, Blue Cross, MVP and Northeast Delta Dental. It can’t talk to the Benaissance system that is supposed to send Vermonters the bills for the insurance products sold on the exchange. On the eve of the day when it is supposed to be on line, it cannot even be tested in real life because key software code has yet to be finalized. Like the Wizard, it is smoke and mirrors, and behind the curtain there is no Wizard — there is only Peter Shumlin.

Image002Nominations are now open for the roles of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. 

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