- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont’s efforts to implement the federal Affordable Care Act took another hit Tuesday as officials announced they were suspending efforts to have small businesses enroll in health insurance through a state website and saying they should enroll instead directly with insurance companies.

“We do not have confidence that online premium processing for small businesses will be completed in time to provide a convenient transition for small business owners and their employees,” said Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, which is implementing the Vermont Health Connect online insurance marketplace.

As a result, Larson said his department is asking that small businesses that had been waiting for the Vermont Health Connect website to be fully functional before enrolling in health care do so instead directly with the two companies offering general health insurance coverage through the state exchange: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Healthcare.

The change would not apply to companies that already have enrolled through the state system. It also would not apply to individuals buying insurance through the exchange.


Glitches on the website and delays in getting it up and running - it was supposed to be ready for launch Oct. 1 - prompted Gov. Peter Shumlin in November to extend the deadline for signing up from Dec. 31 to March 31. The state and the insurers joined to allow people to continue with the insurance they had in 2013 through the first three months of this year, if needed.

Many small businesses had been waiting for the signal from the state that all the problems with Vermont Health Connect, its interactions with a federal data hub and with insurers were cleared up before signing up for new insurance through the exchange.

Now, they’re being asked to sign their employees up for one of the designated insurance products that were to be offered through the exchange, but to handle the application process directly with Blue Cross or MVP.

“Obviously we’re disappointed to not be able to announce that our small business functionality is ready,” Larson said of the exchange. He said he could not offer a date when it might be, adding that he decided to make Tuesday’s announcement so businesses would have some certainty on how to proceed.

Hours after the morning announcement from Larson and other officials, Republican leaders in the Democrat-dominated Vermont House held a previously planned news conference to criticize the administration of Shumlin, a Democrat, over Vermont Health Connect’s bumpy start.

House Minority Leader Don Turner of Milton called for moving up a state survey of households scheduled for 2015 to this year, to gauge the effects of the new health insurance system’s implantation. He also announced the creation of a new website, vthealthreport.com, where residents can share their experiences with Vermont Health Connect.