The Word in the House 2/19/2014 - Going for Gold

Like most Americans, I’ve been watching the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and cheering for our athletes.  While they have won a fair number of medals, it was unfortunate to see so many close finishes that were just short of making the podium.   My admiration for every athlete, however, has not been diminished by the fact that they didn’t win a medal.  I admire each and every one of them for having achieved the right to compete on this world stage.   They got there because they pushed themselves to the limit over and over until, by sheer determination as well as skill, they overcame their unique obstacles to make the U.S. Olympic team.  More often than not, it was because they challenged their limits that they either medaled or fell short.

In sports, you can’t excel unless you get out of your comfort zone.  The same is true in just about any other aspect of life.   A lot of the issues we deal with in the legislature are not earthshaking, but it is not unusual for the legislature to tackle major problems that don’t have simple solutions.  Some of those problems include drug abuse, climate change, education funding, and health care.  Since Vermont Health Connect has been in the national spotlight with a critical article in Newsweek recently, let me say a few words about it. 

The article was very critical about a status update by contracted software developer CGI last July that purported to demonstrate an actual connection between the Vermont Health Connect website and the federal database.  It was eventually revealed that the so-called “live” screens were actually pre-programmed with the results.  The author of the article, based on an anonymous interview, claimed that the Vermont Health Connect staff knew that the demo was not “live”.  However, Vermont Health Connect Commissioner Mark Larson retorted that the Vermont Health Connect staff believed that what they were seeing was a live demo.

Admittedly, the Vermont Health Connect website had a terrible start out of the gate in October, but it has steadily improved and was successfully processing applications since late November.  It is still having a problem interfacing with federal databases, and the capability to process payments electronically is not yet active.*  However, these problems will be resolved in time, and health insurance options for families previously unable to afford insurance are now available.
The problems with Vermont Health Connect have raised concerns about Vermont’s track toward universal health care coverage, called Green Mountain Care, that is scheduled to become operational in 2017.  The Green Mountain Care Board has been working with financial consultants, hospitals, health care providers, and state economists to determine realistic funding options that will decrease the rate of health care cost increases.  While everyone would like to know today what these funding options will be, it is necessary to take the time to do a thorough analysis to get it right.  The Vermont legislature gave that time to the Green Mountain Care Board for that reason and, through its relevant committees, is following the progress of the Green Mountain Care Board closely and taking the experience with Vermont Health Connect into consideration.  While there were voices that said controlling the cost of health care was too difficult a problem to solve, Vermont decided to step up to the challenge, to go for the gold, because all Vermonters should have access to good health care.

* After this article was published in The Citizen, I was informed that the system has been interacting with the federal databases since October.