Shumlin’s Giant Debacle

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom Newsletter

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom continues our newsletter series on Vermont’s health care reform efforts. Our aim is to provide useful information to our client businesses and newsletter recipients, to inform our readers about the efforts toward a “single payer” health care system in Vermont and the problems inherent in such a system, and to address other related health care matters at both the federal and state levels.

Quote of the Week: “I think that sometimes there is an assumption that simply having more people or people with specific experience would have made all the difference.”

DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson on the botched rollout of Vermont Health Connect

In This Issue:

  • Shumlin’s Inability to Manage: Why You Should Be Very Afraid of a Government-Run Health Care System
  • “Single Payer” Financing Charade Continues


As more information leaks out, and more people speak out, Vermonters are learning just how badly the Shumlin administration botched Vermont Health Connect, and the extent of the cover-up perpetrated on Vermonters.

In a comprehensive article published in the Times-Argus and Rutland Herald on Sunday, March 9th, reporter Neal Goswami paints a scary picture of what really went on behind the scenes as the website was designed, developed and rolled out. Some of what went on has been previously reported by VHCF in earlier newsletters. But new information deserves analysis, and this issue is devoted to a deeper dive into the administration’s incompetence and the unfortunate outcomes.

By now it should be abundantly clear that the Shumlin administration is incapable of managing large IT projects. A huge government-run health care system would bury them, and spell disaster for nearly all Vermonters.

Vermont Health Connect is just the latest in a long string of failed system implementations for the state. The two most public system failures have been in the Tax Department and Department of Motor Vehicles (ironically the two agencies that impact the most Vermonters). And now we can add Vermont Health Connect. Over the years, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on botched systems, and in some cases, the systems were scrapped after years of work. Contractors were fired after being paid significant sums of taxpayer money and new contractors hired to start all over again.

One major reason that the state cannot achieve success is political cronyism. To lead the most critical health care IT project in Vermont’s history, impacting 100,000 Vermonters, who did the Governor choose? Was there a nationwide search for a seasoned health insurance executive who has managed large health plan enrollment systems? Along with a senior IT leader who has created and managed complex computer systems and worked with major contractors like CGI? There is more than enough federal money to attract this caliber of leadership.

Not even close. From the get-go, Shumlin chose his friend Mark Larson, a former domestic violence counselor and Robin Lunge, a lawyer. Both are “policy people”, with little if any managerial experience and no IT or commercial insurance experience at all.

The managerial skills and IT subject matter expertise required for this job were staggering. Nearly everyone knew that Larson and Lunge were the wrong picks from the start. Even so, Shumlin could have replaced them with competent leadership rather than letting the whole project go down the tubes. That he didn’t and wouldn’t, and continued to support them while withholding the truth from Vermonters throughout the botched rollout, speaks volumes. Hubris and arrogance are two words that come to mind. Perhaps even worse are incompetence and a failure to comprehend what the job actually required. Shumlin says he was immediately “hands on” after the failed October 1 launch. Where was he between January and October 2013?

The Governor has stated, “It was my belief and our team’s belief that we were going to have a functioning website on October 1; that it wouldn’t have all the bells and whistles, but (those) would be coming in the months after October 1”. This means that either Shumlin was so out of touch with the project that he didn’t know how bad it was, or he was not telling the truth. Neither of these options is acceptable to Vermonters. This is the man who would be “managing” single payer.

The responsibility for Vermont Health Connect rests squarely on the Governor’s shoulders. From his decision to use Larson and Lunge to lead the project instead of hiring the necessary IT and health system expertise, to the botched October 1 rollout, to the repeated enrollment delays and knee-jerk decision making, every element of this project belongs to him as chief executive.

Shumlin did not effectively manage Larson or CGI; he failed to take action when action was needed prior to October 1; he repeatedly misled Vermonters with pablum stories about how well the website was working; and perhaps most egregious of all, he did not ask President Obama for an implementation extension beyond October 1, which there is a good chance that he would have received. Obama has made a significant number of exceptions to the Affordable Care Act requirements, and he is enthralled with Shumlin’s “single payer” scheme.

So, have Shumlin and his administration learned in the aftermath of the VHC debacle, that they need to hire subject matter experts and competent leadership for “single payer”? Apparently not.

An administration official recently said that the state had the right “policy people” in place to design Vermont Health Connect, but they were missing someone with IT or operating system experience. Think about that for a moment. It is totally backward. “Policy” means “plans, strategy, approach, guidelines, theory, position, stance, and attitude”. Does any of that have anything to do with computer programmers writing code and designing and testing operating systems? It’s like hiring a poet to repair your car.

The “policy” has already been set forth in great detail in Act 48. There was no need for “policy people” at all. There certainly was a need for IT and health system experts, however, to lead and manage the project. And they weren’t hired.

The official went on to say that asking “policy experts” to create massive IT business processes was “not fair” (poor things), and that the state must do a better job of teaching (political) appointees how to manage projects.

If there was ever a stupider proposal, we can’t think of one right now.

However, this does tell Vermonters what they can expect with the Governor’s “single payer” scheme. An unrepentant Governor who will do it “his way” regardless of the fallout or cost to Vermonters, who is lacking the necessary skill set to recognize the staffing needs of a huge IT project, and who has not been forthcoming with Vermonters about Vermont Health Connect. “Single payer” will require even more IT contracts and system interfaces with state computer systems. Sounds like a perfect storm.

“Single Payer” Financing Charade Continues

Although Governor Shumlin promised Vermonters that he would present two alternative “single payer” funding proposals during the 2014 legislative session, he has now reneged on his word.


First he ignored the state statute that required him to release the details of how the state will pay for “single payer” by January 2013. Then he promised to deliver two proposals during the 2014 legislative session. In fact, he reiterated both in December 2013 and again in January 2014 that he was going to deliver those proposals. Now he is delaying it until 2015, after the fall elections.

Perhaps he doesn’t want himself or any of his Democratic majority tainted by the truth, that this government-run fantasy is unaffordable for Vermont.

The problem here is that we have a governor who willfully ignores the law, refuses to be truthful with the citizens of Vermont, reneges on his promises, and is not held accountable by the Democratic majority in the legislature.

Absent any significant pushback, Shumlin still plans to implement “single payer” in 2017. But now he intends to leave us with less than two years to figure out how Vermont will pay the estimated $2,000,000,000 per year.

Think about the kind of legislators we need in Montpelier when you go to the polls in the Fall.

And remember this quote from Democratic gadfly Bob Stannard:

“That is the beauty of democracy. You don’t have to do anything. You can just turn your back on it and let others participate. You can rest assured that there are others out there who see the benefit of participating in our democracy and controlling our government. To some degree we’re already seeing the effects of lethargy. The fewer people who participate in the process, the easier it is to gain control of the process”.

Take heed.