Flemming: 40 days of futility on Vermont Health Connect

By David Flemming

My saga begins seven months ago, in November 2018. Since I had to stop paying for my mom’s health insurance in 2019 when I turned 26, I wanted to make sure that I could buy health insurance before it lapsed. I really only had one choice: the Vermont Health Connect website.

In 2011, Vermont’s Legislature passed a bill for creating a single-payer healthcare system. By 2014, Gov. Shumlin had scaled back ambitions for the website, which had initially been created as a vehicle for providing health insurance to all Vermonters. Skyrocketing costs, privacy breaches and a neigh-unusable website that received hundreds of complaints torpedoed the effort.

state of Vermont

Five years later, Vermont Health Connect is supposed be a tool for exhibiting the health plans offered by Vermont’s only two large health insurance providers, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and MVP. Its humble goal is to help Vermonters choose the best insurance, while allowing them to report changes that may affect their rates. It somehow fails to meet even those low standards. At least for me.

According to the website, “open enrollment typically starts in November and lasts for about six weeks. At other times of the year, you may still be able to enroll in coverage if you lose health coverage or have another qualifying event.” Under the heading “Qualifying Events” tab, I saw “aging out of parental coverage” as a valid reason for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). The website said I “may apply (for a SEP) up to 60 days in advance of coverage end date or apply within 60 days following coverage end date.” Since I knew that my coverage end date was my 26th birthday, 5/15/2019, I figured I could apply anytime between 3/16/2019 to 7/14/2019.

My line of work means that I’m somewhat paranoid about government bureaucracy. This time, I was thankful for my paranoia. Rather than wait for March, I decided to see what health insurance I could purchase in November 2018 in case it didn’t go smoothly. I found a table with the different insurance plans that I was eligible for in November 2018, listing dozens of options. At least I had a reference point for when everything hit the fan.

So, March rolled around, and I logged into Vermont Health Connect, to discover that I could not find prices for any of the plans, much less make my purchase. I called Vermont Health Connect as instructed, and they told me I “had to wait until after my birthday (May 15).” In the back of my mind, this raised a reg flag, since this stood in stark contrast to what the website told me. So I would be without insurance beginning on my birthday.

I dutifully went to Vermont Health Connect after my birthday, only to discover that I couldn’t even login. In fact, Vermont Health Connect appeared to be the only website in my life that I had ever encountered where I could not reset my password online. I had to call tech support.

I called customer service on Friday, and the person in charge of showing me the plans told me that she couldn’t reset my password. She had to hand off that request to someone else who had left early for the day. I asked her bluntly, “so my password will be reset on Monday?” She initially said “yes” before qualifying that with “it should be.” Wonderful. But she told me that she would enroll me in a SEP so that, as soon as I logged in, I could look at the insurance plans.

A week later, I was finally able to login. But the website was so clunky I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go to see the plans I was eligible for. So I called Vermont Health Connect again. It wasn’t just me: apparently the customer rep hadn’t made any changes to my account, aside from my password change. Therefore, I wasn’t “eligible for any plans” since I didn’t use the open enrollment last year. I asked her if she had any record of my previous call a week ago, when I had been granted a SEP. “No” was her reply. Then I went through the five-minute process of verifying who I was and letting her know when I lost my coverage. She reached the same conclusion that the last rep had: I was eligible for a SEP because I had been kicked off my insurance a few weeks ago! Who knew.

Somehow, this still didn’t work. After several calls back and forth from May to June, and assurances that I would get my SEP, I finally reached someone who got the website to let me purchase insurance. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the longest call yet: he asked me all the questions that the website had already asked me weeks ago. But, in the end, I was finally able to see the plans on the website!

The bad: there were 28 plans without an easy way to filter them on the website, aside from monthly cost. The good: I’m proficient with Excel, so after an hour or two, I had created a good comparison chart. Narrowing it down to 2 plans, I finally made my choice: an MVP Bronze plan.

Since I wasn’t able to see what plans were available from January to May 14, I was without health insurance for 40 days, from May 15 to June 24. Now, I am usually pretty healthy, but I was exceedingly nervous behind the wheel: if I was in a severe car accident accident, the hospital bills would probably bankrupt me. I was exceedingly unimpressed with the Vermont Health Connect product: the website and customer service were sunk below my low expectations. When Vermont started building the exchange in 2013, “had hoped the exchange could process change-of-circumstances requests by April (2014) without those requests being handled manually.” It is insane that Vermont wasn’t able to use its $200 million to develop the website for something as simple as processing my normal change of circumstance and which is barely serviceable for helping Vermonters choose insurance. How many more years and taxpayer dollars will be wasted on Vermont Health Connect?

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of state of Vermont

8 thoughts on “Flemming: 40 days of futility on Vermont Health Connect

  1. It has taken me approximately 45 minutes to make my monthly payment each month for the past four or five months. I must go through three people, each of whom must have my callback number, SS#, name and date of birth (each entering separately) before I can make a payment. That payment, each time, was supposed to create a direct debit so I would not dread the monthly phone-hour, nor worry about a snail mail payment. It finally worked this month! The people are all very nice, but clearly they are consummate bureaucrats…

    • Sure – but the ‘all’ would exempt politicians, state workers, teachers, union members, federal workers, etc., who would wind up with something much better than everybody else. Kinda like it exists today.

    • That would be the subject of the current discussion. Telling people it’s free is other thing, there never is a free ride….

  2. The sad thing is there aren’t enough people left in the state who know right from wrong to vote this entire government out of business. The majority in VT seem to believe the government exists to pay their way through life.

  3. Unfortunately, this is the common story with VT Health DisConnect. They rarely get things right.

    The real tragedy with this service is they have NO CLUE as to how to advise people on their subsidies.
    Way more often than not, customers who get subsidies have to pay some or all of them back. After 5 years of existence, this service is no better than on day one.

    The government should be ashamed of this !

  4. Come on, Government trying to implement a Healthcare System, what could go wrong !!

    When the Government decides it can handle a new system all it takes is a little money, as
    you see they already wasted $200 Million, so all will need just a few more millions and as
    we know we’ll still have a non-working program !!

    They cannot even patch a pothole.

  5. Oh, I’ve been working for years, YEARS!!!!!! For them to get my mailing address correctly done, they have yet been able to fix it, multiple multiple times…….do you think this gives me any confidence?

    They can’t get a simple address correct, and remarkably, they ask every time, would you like to comment on service after? I say yes, and remarkably,the service questionnaire is NEVER presented to me.

    I will say the people are nice , pleasant, and send the complaint up for review, it’s the only company I deal with that can’t get my address correct.

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