On Tuesday, Sept. 16, the Shumlin administration announced that Vermont Health Connect has shut down its website temporarily to complete ongoing operational, technical, performance and security improvements necessary for a well-functioning customer experience when the next open enrollment period begins in November. The State made the decision to take down the website after consultation with its federal partners at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The State has engaged its new Vermont Health Connect vendor, Optum, to implement site improvements.
Optum is already on the ground working with Vermont Health Connect to make needed improvements, and the State expects the website will be restored to full, improved operation before the start of open enrollment. Meanwhile, Vermont Health Connect will continue to provide coverage and services to Vermonters, and will work to minimize disruptions to those who rely on Vermont Health Connect for health insurance.
“As all Vermonters know, we’ve had disappointment after disappointment with the Vermont HealthConnect website,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin. “I have been very frustrated that the website remains incomplete. Bringing down the site now to make improvements with our new partner Optum is the best choice to deliver a well-functioning, secure website for customers by the open enrollment period that begins November 15.”
During the period the VHC website is offline, enrolled Vermonters will still be covered and will be able to complete payment by mail or by phone. Though most Vermonters who seek 2014 coverage are already enrolled, those who qualify to enroll in a 2014 plan prior to the 2015 open enrollment will also be served by the Vermont Health Connect call center while the website remains down.
The Governor’s senior advisor Lawrence Miller emphasized that this decision was not motivated by discovery of any compromise of confidential consumer information, but said that the State continually assesses security and other operational needs. Miller said that taking the site down to complete much-needed improvements and enhance security protocols prior to open enrollment is the right course, particularly in light of recent highly publicized breaches of other sites.
“Establishing this online health insurance network has been challenging from the start, to say the least,” Miller said. “It is critical that we take advantage of this period of relatively low-volume use to improve Vermont Health Connect’s operations, technology and security, and turn around the difficulties Vermonters have experienced with our website.
Optum, which has helped develop, operate and improve health exchange websites both at the federal and state level, is finishing its assessment of the website’s needed improvements, and is already implementing its work plan.