- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont officials said Thursday that technology upgrades to the state’s online health insurance exchange have been tested and will be deployed Thursday evening by the deadline the governor had set for smooth operations of the system two years after it was launched.

Officials also said that a backlog of more than 10,000 people trying to make changes to their coverage to reflect new jobs or family situations had been reduced to 186 cases. Those remaining cases have technological problems and will be fixed by the mid-October, said Lawrence Miller, director of health care reform for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The improvements are being made ahead of the Nov. 1 start to an open-enrollment period when new customers can sign up for health coverage through the exchange.

More works lies ahead and there will be more bumps in the road, Shumlin said.

“I want to make clear that today is not a mission accomplished. It’s an update … that we’re very optimistic that on Nov. 1 this exchange is going to work as we all wished it would have,” Shumlin said, noting that states across the country who chose to build their own exchanges have all struggled.

The exchange will go down Thursday and be up and running on Monday.

The customer service functioning of the exchange is vastly improved, for example, a change of circumstance reported in the first 15 days of the month will be reflected in customer’s next bill, Shumlin said. Customers will be able to report many changes online starting Monday, Shumlin said.

“I feel like for the first time the future of Vermont Health Connect is brighter than it’s ever been,” said Cassandra Gekas, director of operations for Vermont Health Connect.

Republican Lt. Gov. and gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott said he was pleased to hear that the state is making progress, but won’t be satisfied that the exchange is working until calls to his office from people having problems with it end. He had suggested that Vermont join with the federal exchange instead of be one of the more than a dozen states managing their own.

“I’m glad to learn we’re making progress on Vermont Health Connect, since many Vermonters have been frustrated with the rollout, costs and performance of the exchange. However, the real measure of whether or not Vermont Health Connect is working will not be in words, but rather in the experiences of the Vermonters and small businesses who are forced to use it,” he said.

Small businesses buy their insurance for employees directly through the insurance carriers, not through the website, the governor’s office said.

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