Local man still struggles with Vt. Health Connect

STARKSBORO — Jeff Keeney’s patience for Vermont Health Connect, the state’s incarnation of the Affordable Care Act, has run out.
“I don’t believe anything from Vermont Health Connect,” Keeney said late last week. “They’ve been wrong every step of the way.”
The Independent featured Keeney’s struggle to register his family in the program back in December. Keeney, 56, is a self-employed civil engineer. Since he does not get insurance through an employer, he plans to enroll himself, his wife and his son in their own plan through the health exchange.
Keeney started the online application in early November. After waiting hours on hold on the Vermont Health Connect help line, he appealed to local state legislators.
After receiving Keeney’s letter, Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, reached out on the Starksboro man’s behalf. He contacted Department of Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, and Keeney got the help he needed. After a few more hiccups, such as Keeney’s 16-year-old son being listed as the primary contact for the plan, Keeney was able to complete the application. He mailed a payment on Dec. 31, and waited to receive an insurance card for the policy.
More than two weeks later, he’s still waiting. In the interim, his family has paid for four doctor’s visits out-of-pocket. Keeney said that Vermont Health Connect officials told him that the policy would be backdated to start Jan. 1, but said he does not believe this.
About 100,000 Vermonters, or about 16 percent of the population, are expected to enroll in the program.
The Vermont Health Connect website went live Oct. 1 for people to examine the plans. On Nov. 1, individuals and businesses could start signing up. After glitches and multiple security breaches, Gov. Shumlin delayed the deadline to register for insurance from January to March.
More bad news arose for the beleaguered program when Shumlin announced that the state was now directing small businesses to enroll directly through insurance companies instead of on the glitch-ridden website.
Keeney sent another email to legislators Jan. 11.
“I have yet to hear one person who has been happy with the way the system is running,” Keeney wrote. “Many people are very angry and they expect something to be done about it.”
Rep. Fisher, Sen. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, and Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, responded to Keeney.
Fisher acknowledged that he has heard stories from other frustrated Vermonters, like Keeney, but added that others have found satisfaction in the program.
“There are the very frustrating and disturbing stories of Vermonters and Vermont businesses who have been tied up by a system that was clearly not functioning when it was launched,” Fisher wrote. “There is also a powerful story that I have heard many times both in our community as well as in the Legislature from Vermonters who are gaining new and better access to care at a more affordable price.”
Fisher remained optimistic that the Vermont Health Connect program will be a success.
“I continue to be frustrated at the pace of improvements, but you should know that more and more Vermonters have gained access to VHC plans as the system has improved in recent weeks,” Fisher wrote. “It is too early to say, but early indications are that more individuals and families are getting covered than were covered in the old system. We will chart those numbers carefully in coming weeks.”
Bray encouraged Keeney to stay in touch with legislators regarding his struggles, while Ayer said she agreed with Fisher’s response and that she shared similar frustrations with Vermont Health Connect.
Keeney said he’s baffled why it has taken so long to receive an insurance card for a policy he has already paid for. For the 11th week in a row, he will wait, hoping a resolution will come soon.

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