Lunge: overwhelmed or overacting?

by Lindsay Smith

Robin Lunge, Director of Health Care Reform, appears to be feeling the pressure of heading such an ambitious project. Called before a joint meeting with the Senate and House committees on health care, Lunge was asked to present the current situation of the health care reform bill. With tension building in the House and Senate between over the timing of release of plans for financing and benefits, before or after the 2012 election (Republicans are asking for the earlier release of that information), Lunge’s plan, bolstered by her complaints of an overly heavy workload, would put the deadline for all financial and benefit information firmly in 2013.

Lunge declared the project as an intense undertaking and admitted, “Maybe I’m an overachiever”. She listed the agencies and departments she is overseeing, including Agency of Human Services, Agency of Administration, Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, Department of Children and Families, Department of Education, Department of Vermont Health Access, Department of Labor, Green Mountain Care Board, Tax Department, and the Department of Health. These groups are collaborating, but it is her “job is to make sure we’re measuring our progress”.

All of the collaborating organizations have specific tasks they are assigned to and specific deadlines to complete their tasks. She laid out a plan that presented which organizations would retain “primary responsibility” for each step. The only task for the agency Lunge belongs to, the Agency of Administration, was number fifteen on her list of sixteen tasks:

“Gain passage of legislation and approval of a federal waiver for pubic financing that is divorced from employment and sensitive to the ability of individuals and businesses to pay for coverage and is more sustainable.”

 And to achieve that goal she lists three sub-tasks:

  • Develop financing plans required by ACT 48 and report to legislature
  • Assess impact on individuals and businesses within Vermont
  • Seek federal waiver from Affordable Care Act

Her deadline for completing this project: 2013, after the next election cycle.

Lunge presented a system of measuring the success of the project, but offered a disclaimer: “Instead of perfect… we looked at data sources we had available”. She noted that developing a “perfect” measure of success would take up to one year, but to avoid that wasted time she would be using “measures we can currently track”.

Interestingly, Lunge noted that she would not be using information from JFO to evaluate the success of this project. Steve Klein of the JFO has spoken about his belief that the project “may be at the lower end of the savings,” but Lunge doesn’t think information coming from his office can be an accurate measure. Klein has admitted his research isn’t complete because he doesn’t know what the plan is going to cost- something Lunge won’t make available until 2013.

Lunge claims her motive for prolonging deadlines is in the name of innovation. She believes that in asking for an extension on January 2012 deadlines, she “erred on the side of not turning in bad product.” She also claimed that speeding up the process to develop a plan wouldn’t result in innovation but rather an “off the shelf product”.

When questioned on deadlines and finances, Lunge was noticeably frustrated. When asked how she would find time to complete all the coordination and tasks she replied, “the less you schedule me, the more time I will have to work”. Lunge added that she was “being frank”.

During her testimony Lunge also talked of her current enrollment in a Dartmouth College masters program. She is one of 47 students studying for Dartmouth’s first Master of Health Care Delivery Science. This education relies on The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and presents students with an “action-learning project” “to design the benefits package for Vermont’s new health insurance system”. (tuck.dartmouth.edu).

Lunge’s collaboration with the many departments and agencies as well as the students and professors she is working with at Dartmouth is an intense task on its own. Managing the communication between all these groups and presenting the information to the legislators, something she already she has already branded as a waste of time, requires developed time management skills. Lunge has already shown a deficiency in this area in her failure to meet this month’s deadlines.

Vermonters will have to wait until Lunge’s project is developed before they will get any financial information on the project. With no real measure of success and an already failing system of time management and communication, Lunge is producing doubt that the project will be a success.

Rob Roper contributed to this story.