Vermont Republicans want the deadline for small businesses to sign up for the state health insurance exchange delayed. They have also asked the Vermont federal prosecutor's office to investigate possible fraud by the software company in charge of the designing the exchange.
This week, Republican House Minority Leader Don Turner joined other party members to call on the governor and other administration officials to delay the small business deadline for signups to the state health care exchange. In October and November, the Republicans asked that the exchange be voluntary for both the business and individual market. Turner adds that the deadline has already been changed once to March 31st. “What we’re saying is we would like that to continue. But we also want it to be voluntary. What we are trying to do is to allow the system to have time for the developers and the state to get the system up and functioning the way it was promised. Forcing more and more people to go onto it when it isn’t working properly doesn’t make a lot of sense from my perspective or many of my colleagues. We’re not trying to stop it. We’re not telling people that are on it that they won't have insurance. We’re just saying let it continue to be worked on so it becomes more proficient. And what we called for was a delay until the next enrollment period.”
As altruistic as Turner may sound, Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falco Schilling isn’t buying it. He says the Republicans are re-stating ongoing arguments over the state health care exchange. “They’ve been calling for delays or extensions or delaying implementation for a good while now. And I think it’s part of an overall effort to really undermine what we're trying to do. But when you look at Vermont’s performance and the ability to actually enroll people we have been able to take a tough situation and do really well with it. We’re getting some of the highest enrollment numbers in the country because of our flexibility on this issue.”
Turner joined Republican Senator Joe Benning in writing to the federal prosecutor in Vermont, asking that office to investigate CGI, the company responsible for developing the Vermont health exchange website. Their request came following allegations in a recent Newsweek article that the company faked a test to persuade state officials that development of the website was on track. A CGI spokeswoman denied that allegation in a statement issued Wednesday. Turner is exasperated that the governor continues to employ the company. “The governor has refused to terminate the relationship with CGI, the large Canadian firm that was hired at a cost of over eighty million dollars to develop this site and has missed almost every deadline. We just don’t understand why the governor has so much faith in this company that continues t o miss deadline after deadline. The governor and the super-majority in the House choose to ignore our calls for oversight.”
But VPIRG’s Falco Schilling counters that opponents of health care reform are throwing up distractions. “We know there have definitely have been some issues with CGI. Yet, this is another place where they're trying to take a report from an anonymous source and make this an example of how healthcare reform can’t work in Vermont. And that’s just not true.”
Shumlin administration officials have said they're unsure they would be able to allow voluntary enrollment in the exchange. The Vermont Health Care Reform Director was not available for comment in time for this broadcast.