- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont’s largest health care provider has had few problems with patients using health insurance provided by the state’s new health care exchange since coverage began Jan. 1, an official said Wednesday.

The report from Burlington’s Fletcher Allen Health Care comes as the Department of Vermont Health Access continues to overcome technical problems on the Vermont Health Connect website and enroll people in health insurance policies provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Healthcare.

Shannon Lonergan, director of registration at Burlington’s Fletcher Allen Health Care, said only a small percentage of the thousands of patients the hospital and its affiliated offices see every day have been covered by insurance provided through Vermont Health Connect. Still, they expected more problems than they have seen.

“Surprisingly, it’s gone well,” she said.

In a number of cases, the hospital could find no record of a patient being covered when the person first arrived for services, but those cases were resolved within the 21-day period the hospital set before sending out bills.

“For those who didn’t have the insurance cards, we’ve been able to follow up and get the information that’s been necessary for billing (the insurer). So other than your normal challenges around the first of the year with a number of patients having new insurance to load, it’s gone, really, quite well,” Lonergan said.

As of Jan. 27, 1,421 patients had registered at Fletcher Allen with a Health Care Exchange plan, with about half for care in a provider’s office and half for hospital services. Only about 4 percent of hospital services were provided in the emergency department.

And on Jan. 21, Fletcher Allen received its first two payments for services provided through a Vermont Health Connect insurance policy - bills for laboratory services of $183 and $203, she said.

Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson said more than 25,000 Vermonters have signed up for coverage. Of those who weren’t eligible for Medicaid, about 80 percent were eligible for financial assistance in paying premiums, said Vermont Health Connect spokeswoman Emily Yahr.

Larson said small businesses still can’t use the problem-plagued website, which hasn’t been able to process online payments.

Larson couldn’t say when the online payment system might be ready for use. But the telephone wait time to reach a customer service representative has dropped to less than 20 seconds, he said.

“I think we’re not where we had wanted to be. We would prefer to have the system function for small business, we would prefer to allow for online payments, but we are pleased to see Vermonters access coverage. We feel pretty confident Vermonters have avoided gaps in coverage,” Larson said.

Kevin Goddard, a vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, said the insurer is still receiving enrollment data for people whose coverage began Jan. 1.

“It’s been a very bumpy start for Vermont Health Connect,” Goddard said.

He said about 19,000 people have enrolled in Blue Cross plans and another 20,000 customers had their previous plans extended through the end of March.

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