This time they’d better get it right

Crossposted at my blog, The Vermont Political Observer.

The latest turn in the saga of Vermont Health Connect came today, with the cancellation of CGI’s contract to develop VHC’s endlessly troublesome website. The move comes seven months after the Obama Administration fired CGI as contractor on the federal website, and four months after Massachusetts did the same.

You can say the Shumlin Administration waited too long; or you can say they tried to stick with CGI as long as they could because the company knew more about the system than a new contractor possibly could. And, as the Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen reports, this disaster had many fathers:

The marketplace… has struggled since its launch Oct. 1. CGI missed many deadlines to complete processes and make fixes, although state officials and independent analysts have noted the unreasonableness of the compressed federal timeline that all states had to meet.

That “compressed federal timeline” was the result of numerous conservative lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act. No serious progress could be made until the Supreme Court had its say, which basically cut half of the preparation time for Obamacare’s launch.

But either way you slice it, the time had come for “a fresh perspective,” as health care reform czar Lawrence Miller put it. Whether CGI was truly at fault or not, a ritual sacrifice was called for. Its replacement, Optum, had already been hired to address a backlog of stalled “change of circumstance” requests.

After the jump: Where was the Governor?

It must also be noted, disapprovingly, that Miller and Mark Larson of the Department of Health Care Access were left to announce CGI’s departure in what looks, in media photos, to be a dreary and hastily-arranged encounter with the media. No sign of Governor Shumlin who, according to his official schedule, is in Montpelier today but couldn’t manage to join his long-suffering functionaries. He’ll be in public all over the place the rest of this week, wherever there’s good news to be announced; but not today. Sorry.

Those of us who support health care reform with single-payer as the ultimate goal have been frustrated by the continued delays and setbacks at VHC. And by the repeated (and routinely unfulfilled) assurances from the Shumlin team.

Well, now is the time to get it right. Good thing the Governor doesn’t face a signficant electoral challenge this year – although the longer this goes on, the more likely the Democrats are to lose seats in the Legislature. And with moderate Dems already doubtful about single-payer, Shumlin really can’t afford to lose any votes.

But beyond that, if VHC’s troubles continue into next winter, it’s hard to see the Legislature seriously considering a single-payer plan. Miller has accurately noted that single-payer will actually be a lot less complicated than the health care exchange – a bigger machine, but with far fewer moving parts. Still, why should the legislature go ahead with single-payer while VHC is still unproven?

This is a critical time for health care reform. There’s better damn well be measurable, actual progress before Election Day.

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