Despite receiving almost $200 million in federal taxpayer dollars, Vermont’s Obamacare exchange website still lacks basic functionality. Two years after the website went live, customers are unable to auto-reenroll or change personal information without contacting employees at a call center. Not only is this an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars, the condition of the website has created hardships for Vermonters and complicated their healthcare system. The system is so poor that one healthcare advocate in the state recently described the functionality of the Vermont Health Connect exchange as “hellish” for consumers.
Since launching in late 2013, Vermont Health Connect has been plagued with “debilitating glitches.” For close to 20 months, the exchange relied on a mind-bogglingly complex method of processing requests, with many having to be logged and entered manually into up to six different databases.
For months a backlog of over 10,000 “change of circumstance” requests existed, but Governor Peter Shumlin recently announced that the exchange had cut its backlog in half. Even so, more than 4,500 customers still have requests that needed to be processed. While this is rare good news, the state now faces a race against time to complete several new functions before the next enrollment period begins in October 1. If it does not, the state will have to spend $3.5 million hiring temporary workers to manually enroll individuals.
A recent report by VTDigger detailed the burdens that the exchange has created for Vermonters enrolled on Obamacare. One woman paid premiums for nearly a year only to discover that Vermont Health Connect had canceled her plan, instead of removing her son from the plan as she had requested.
Throughout the year, the individual was told by exchange employees that she had been covered, but now that she has learned this is not the case it is likely she will have to pay the penalty for not having health insurance because of Obamacare’s individual mandate.
Another woman enrolled on the exchange did not receive invoices for months from Vermont Health Connect because of the exchange backlog. Despite the exchange failing to send invoices, her account may be canceled due to non-payments. The exchange still expects individuals to pay, even if they don’t receive invoices.
After nearly two years, it is unbelievable that a $200 million website still lacks basic functions. But Vermont is not an isolated case – Oregon, Hawaii, and Massachusetts are just some of the many cases of failed state exchanges.
Given the numerous problems that have arisen from the construction of state exchanges, it is clear that the federal government’s vision for a set of state run Obamacare exchanges is unrealistic. With federal taxpayers on the hook for at least $5.4 billion in funds to construct these exchanges, the American people deserve stronger oversight over how this money was spent.