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October 15, 2013

Homemade Health Exchange App Wins HackVT Competition

HackVT 2013 - Team Galenerds
Left to right: Matt Woodside, Michael Commo, Michael Tamlyn, Drew Johnson

As the state moves closer to throwing the switch on health care reform in January, Vermonters are hopping online to use the Vermont Health Connect website. The new exchange, which has taken months and millions of dollars to build, displays all of the plan options and features a calculator that tallies what subsidies you may be eligible to receive.

But what if you just want to know how your asthma medication will affect your potential insurance rates? Or how much you can expect to pay if your child breaks her foot? Vermont Health Connect might not be able to answer quick and dirty questions like that — but an app built in 24 hours by volunteers could.

A team of employees from a Burlington-based health care software firm built just such a thing during last weekend’s third annual HackVT, a hackathon hosted at MyWebGrocer’s Champlain Mill HQ in Winooski. Thirty-one teams of participants stayed up all night to code some kind of Vermont-themed app in 24 hours. This year’s projects included a mobile app to navigate state parks, a "livability index" for Vermont cities and towns and an app to help users learn healthy food and exercise habits — oh hey, that last one was the app that my team built, full disclosure.

But the winner was a "Health Connect Scenario Calculator," built by a team of Galen Healthcare employees calling themselves the "Galenerds." The app allows prospective health care buyers to compare the costs of different levels of insurance under the exchange — plus the cost of not having insurance — based on a user-selected combination of scenarios and medical events. Are you single, making $40,000 a year and want to know what it would cost if you got in a car crash? The app can help you figure that out. Married and planning to get pregnant? You can input those options, too.

Continue reading "Homemade Health Exchange App Wins HackVT Competition" »

October 14, 2013

Morning Read: State Pays D.C. Firm for Vermont Media Intel

MorningreadVermont Public Radio's Bob Kinzel is totally a Negative Nancy.

At least, that's the conclusion a Washington, D.C. consulting firm drew in April after the state of Vermont paid the company $18,000 for intel on reporters covering the roll-out of the state's new health care exchange.

The Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld had the details in a shocking Sunday story in the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus outlining the lengths to which Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration has gone to manipulate press coverage of the exchange, called Vermont Health Connect.

Continue reading "Morning Read: State Pays D.C. Firm for Vermont Media Intel" »

October 04, 2013

In Health Exchange Roll-Out, Shumlin Distinguishes Between "Nothing-Burgers" and "Something-Burgers"

NothingburgerTwo days after his administration launched a new web-based health insurance marketplace, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday that problems plaguing Vermont Health Connect were a little more "something-burger" than "nothing-burger."

At the same time, Shumlin said his administration was "making great progress" in resolving glitches and accelerating connectivity to the online exchange, through which 100,000 Vermonters are expected to buy health insurance. 

"This is a good news story," the governor said Thursday afternoon at a Statehouse press conference. "This is the biggest technology transformation in health care in the history of America. We are delivering on the promise that was made to help low-income people get access to insurance."

In discussing the system's roll-out, Shumlin found himself revisiting a prime metaphor he cooked up at another press conference two weeks before. At the time, the governor was asked about his administration's recent admission that Vermont Health Connect's online payment processing system would not debut until November 1 — a month later than promised.

Continue reading "In Health Exchange Roll-Out, Shumlin Distinguishes Between "Nothing-Burgers" and "Something-Burgers"" »

October 03, 2013

This Week's Issue: A Famous Sea Captain, Political Dark Arts and Scandalous Dancing

100213-coverIt's a big news week in Vermont with the long-awaited launch of the state's health care exchange. We've got stories about that and more in this week's Seven Days.

Read these stories and more in print, online or on our iOS app.

Cover photo of Captain Phillips by Oliver Parini

September 30, 2013

Mark Larson: VT Health Connect is Ready to Go Live Tomorrow

Health care coverMark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA), said Monday afternoon that, despite 11th-hour claims to the contrary, Vermont Health Connect is "prepared to go live tomorrow." That's when Vermont officially launches its new online health insurance exchange, the first step in the state's implementation of the federally mandated Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare."

Larson took time out of what is arguably his most stressful day of the year to respond to criticisms about the new online exchange leveled by Republican Randy Brock. On Sunday, the former Vermont auditor, state senator and GOP gubernatorial candidate published a scathing editorial on VT Digger likening Vermont Health Connect to The Wizard of Oz, all "smoke and mirrors, and behind the curtain there is no Wizard — there is only Peter Shumlin."

"The fact of the matter is this: The system doesn’t work," Brock charged.

Not so, according to Larson.

"I think the recent op-ed is unfortunate in that it tries to create concern about our ability to successfully launch Vermont Health Connect," Larson told Seven Days this afternoon. Contrary to Brock's claims, he said, Vermonters will still be able to go online, compare health insurance plans, sign up for an account and then select a plan that works for them. If Vermonters get that far in October, he added, they’ll be invoiced come November and be able to pay either electronically or by check.

Continue reading "Mark Larson: VT Health Connect is Ready to Go Live Tomorrow" »

Health Reform Opponents to Robo-Call 30,000 Vermonters Tuesday

VHCF logoWhen Vermont's new health insurance exchange goes live Tuesday morning, its chief opponents plan to flood the state with automated phone calls criticizing it.

Darcie Johnston, the founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, says her organization plans to robo-call 30,000 households with a message warning Vermonters that, thanks to Gov. Peter Shumlin, they "could be left uninsured in just three months."

"Why?" the message continues. "Gov. Shumlin got the legislature to require that individuals and small employers must buy health insurance only through an online exchange called Vermont Health Connect — and the exchange may not be ready in time."

The message, which Johnston says will cost $800 to deploy, provides recipients the option to "press 1 now" to be connected with the governor — or at least the poor, beleaguered staffers answering his phones on the fifth floor of the Pavilion State Office Building. A separate message, which will be left on the voicemail systems of those who don't pick up, will helpfully provide the gov's number. 

Continue reading "Health Reform Opponents to Robo-Call 30,000 Vermonters Tuesday" »

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."

Continue reading "Morning Read: VT Health Connect's Bumpy Ride on the Yellow Brick Road" »

September 25, 2013

This Week's Issue: Methadone, Molly and More


Grab your favorite pumpkin-flavored coffee drink — that little chill in the morning means fall is here, and the first Seven Days of the season hit the streets today. Here's what you'll find for news and politics this week:

Pick up this week's issue in print, online or on the app.

This week's cover image by the late Stephen Huneck is courtesy of the Stephen Huneck Gallery. See this week's cover story about the future of Dog Mountain.

September 24, 2013

VT Atty. Gen. Sorrell Calls on FDA to Regulate e-Cigarettes Like Tobacco

F-butts2On Tuesday, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell signed onto a letter sent by 38 other attorneys general around the country who are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigarettes," as tobacco products under the federal Tobacco Control Act.

The battery-powered devices deliver a vaporized hit of nicotine that many smokers describe as similar in taste and feel to tobacco cigarettes, without the smoke, odor or — their manufacturers claim — deadly chemicals. Many longtime smokers credit e-cigarettes for helping them reduce or even eliminate their conventional tobacco habit entirely.

However, public health officials have expressed growing alarm in recent years about the rise of e-cigarette use among children and teenagers. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs are not currently regulated as tobacco products in the United States, thus allowing their sale to minors.

As Sorrell noted in his Tuesday press release, the U.S. Surgeon General has warned that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is still highly addictive and has immediate biochemical effects on the brain and body, and can be toxic in high doses. Sorrell also noted that the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes, both at the state and federal level, "puts youth at risk of developing a lifelong addiction to a potentially dangerous product that could also act as a gateway to using other tobacco products."

Continue reading "VT Atty. Gen. Sorrell Calls on FDA to Regulate e-Cigarettes Like Tobacco" »

September 18, 2013

This Week's Issue: Untangling Vermont's Health Care Exchange; Union Busting Allegations at SMC

Cover-091813Happy Wednesday, people. Here are the news and politics stories you'll find in the latest edition of Seven Days:

If those links aren't your style, read these stories in print or on the Seven Days app.

Cover illustration by Michael Tonn

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