• State: Health care website functions take step forward
    By Neal P. Goswami
    VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | December 03,2013
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    MONTPELIER — Online functions to process premiums for the health care plans selected by individuals and families on the state’s exchange will be in place today, but paper bills will be sent later this week as testing of online payment systems continues, state officials said Monday.

    “Today we will begin the deployment of the payment and enrollment functionality for individuals and families who have started a Vermont Health Connect application and have selected a plan,” Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said in a conference call with reporters.

    But the ability to pay for health insurance online is still not available, Larson said. That function will not launch until security testing is completed, he said.

    “We’ll do that when we feel like it’s tested and ready for Vermonters to use,” he said. “People will not be able to pay with a debit card or credit card online.”

    Larson and his boss, Gov. Peter Shumlin, have offered launch dates for the payment function in the past and failed to meet them. Now they say it will launch only when testing indicates it is ready for use.

    Still, Larson maintained that Monday’s announcement was a milestone and “another significant step forward.”

    Shumlin, speaking to reporters Monday at an unrelated event, agreed.

    “From Commissioner Larson’s perspective and mine this is a huge accomplishment because it means … that the systems are working. That you can actually go in, complete the process and get a bill out. We will be going to a credit card payment as soon as we can,” the governor said.

    The premium processing function for small businesses remains in testing, according to Larson. As a result, small businesses and their employees who have selected health coverage through Vermont Health Connect will have their current coverage extended into 2014 at 2013 rates. That arrangement will continue until the payment function for small businesses is operational.

    “We are not prepared today to initiate the invoicing for small groups,” Larson said.

    All deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for all extended plans will reset Jan. 1. Any expenditures will be credited to an employee’s new exchange plan in 2014 as long as the carrier remains the same.

    About 1,400 small businesses that have signed up for health coverage through the website online, over the phone, with a navigator or through a paper application are affected. Those businesses employ about 13,400 people.

    Small businesses that have already elected to extend 2013 coverage or directly enroll through an insurance carrier into an exchange plan, and small businesses that chose to have their carrier roll them into an exchange plan that most closely resembles their current coverage are not affected.

    Officials said invoices will be mailed later this week to individuals and families who have selected plans through the exchange. Those bills will need to be paid by paper check or money order no later than Jan. 7 for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

    Larson said that while invoices and payments must be in paper form for now, Monday’s announcement is a major step forward. A vast amount of information will now be readily exchanged between the state, federal government and insurance carriers, a process that previously did not work.

    “There are a variety of different transactions that are occurring to facilitate that payment. That’s what we have been testing,” he said.

    Shumlin said that while the state offers online payments for some other services, health insurance is “much more complex than buying a hunting license or registering your car.”

    “The credit card payment system won’t be too far behind. We just want to make sure it’s gone through all of the security tests that are necessary,” he said. “Let’s remember that never have you been able to pay for health insurance with a credit card. No one has done that yet. So, we’re trying to do something that’s not been done.”

    The deployment of the premium processing function was set to begin Monday evening. The Vermont Health Connect website was expected to be unavailable for applications and plan selection until late this morning.

    neal.goswami @timesargus.com
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