New health exchange launches Tuesday
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | September 29,2013
MONTPELIER — Vermont’s health care exchange is set to launch Tuesday thanks to an influx of $172.6 million in federal funding to help the state meet the requirements laid out in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
While many states have opted to allow the federal government to create the required online marketplace for health insurance, Vermont has embraced the federal requirement and set out to create its own unique version. The Obama administration has rewarded the state handsomely — dishing out five separate grants totaling $172,641,000 to complete the work.
Vermont already has the federal money in hand, so its health exchange is not immediately threatened by a weekend move by Republicans in the U.S. House, who are trying to delay the launch of Obamacare, by a year.
The long-term effects of such a move, if successful, on Vermont’s health reforms were unclear Saturday.
In the meantime, state officials say the Vermont Health Connect online portal will launch as planned Oct. 1 for individuals and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, allowing them to begin reviewing and comparing plans offered by the state’s two insurance carriers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care.
About 100,000 Vermonters are expected to enroll in insurance plans offered on the exchange. In total, 18 different insurance plans will be available. Each carrier is offering different levels of insurance — bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Depending on income, Vermonters can receive subsidies and tax credits to help offset the cost of insurance.
Vermont Health Connect is the largest overhaul of health care in Vermont’s history, and the cost of implementing it is massive. The entire cost of setting up the exchange is covered entirely by federal grants, however, according to Lindsey Tucker, deputy commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access.
Much of the work has been performed by outside contractors. As of the end of June, the state had spent about $24.6 million of the $172.6 million allocated by the federal government in grants, according to Tucker. Significantly more has been spent during the current fiscal quarter and will be reflected when it closes at the end of the month, she said.
The spending, thus far, has largely been on several major contracts of more than $5 million.
The largest contract, with CGI Technologies & Solutions, will total about $91.4 million by the end of 2014, Tucker said. The company is charged with creating the actual online portal where Vermont residents and small businesses will purchase insurance.
“They are the ones building the exchange, building Vermont Health Connect,” Tucker said.
The platform created by CGI will also serve other health programs in the state. The company is simultaneously working on other IT improvements for the state, which is why some general fund dollars will be spent on the contract with CGI, according to Tucker. A recent amendment to the contract shows about $2.5 million in state funds allocated.
CGI is using software created by Oracle to build the exchange portal. Tucker said the state has a $10.2 million contract with Oracle for software and licensing fees. The contract also includes the assistance of Oracle staff to help create the exchange, Tucker said.
The state has also contracted with several consulting firms. Wakely Consulting Group is receiving $6.1 million for planning and design work. Tucker said the group helped state officials design the insurance plans offered on the exchange, including the co-pay structure and benefits.
The contract also called for assistance in creating the navigator program — a statewide team of 250 individuals who are helping small businesses and individuals enroll.
A $3 million contract was awarded to 22nd Century Technologies to provide technical expertise to the state. Tucker said the state did not have staff with the knowledge to build and implement some of the technology needed for the exchange portal.
Desai Management Consulting won a $6 million contract to provide experts in project management and business analyst services. Tucker said the personnel provided by Desai will assist the state only through the completion of the exchange system.
The federal grants to launch the exchange have also created 77 limited services positions that are considered state employees. The positions, Tucker sad, include outreach and education managers, enterprise architects, policy analysts, business analysts, eligibility and health programs specialists, and project management professionals.