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Vermont Health Connect website is shut down to be fixed before next enrollment period

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WINOOSKI, Vermont — The state has temporarily shut down the Vermont Health Connect website so it can be fixed before the start of the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday.

The management of the system will also be changed, giving Lawrence Miller, the state's overall director of health care reform, full oversight of Vermont Health Connect, Shumlin said at a news conference in Winooski.

The changes are needed to ensure the system is ready for the next open enrollment period and can remain secure while those upgrades are being made, Shumlin and others said.

"All Vermonters know that we've been disappointed and had disappointment after disappointment with the Vermont health care website," Shumlin said at the headquarters of the Department of Vermont Health Access. "As I've said many times, no one is more frustrated than me."

Vermonters who used the website to manage their health insurance will be able to do so by mail or telephone for the next two months.

While the site is offline, it will be easier for the state's new contractor, Optum, to make the needed upgrades and repairs.

Vermont Health Connect is the state's online marketplace, where people can compare and buy health insurance plans as part of the national health care law. But Vermont Health Connect has been plagued by problems since it went online Oct. 1 and before it was shut down, it still could not fulfill all its intended functions.

Last month, the state started working with the contractor Optum, which has experience in other states and with the federal government's system.

Miller said the demand on the system now is relatively low, so it's a good time to make the change. He said the decision was not motivated by the discovery of any compromise of confidential consumer information.

"It's much more important that we get everything clearly set up for open enrollment," Miller said.

Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said officials approve of the actions Vermont is taking.

"We appreciate Vermont's decision and are continuing to work closely with the state to support its effort to strengthen the security and operations of its website as quickly as possible," Albright said.

Interim Human Services Secretary Harry Chen, who has been looking at the functioning of the departments within his agency since he took over last month, said he came to the conclusion over the weekend that the website should be taken down while it's being repaired.

"It was clear to me if we just keep doing the same thing we're doing we're going to get the same result," Chen said.

"I felt the best way to get the job done quickest and most effectively was to work with our new contractor and get all these things out of the way and done while we have the opportunity to it more effectively in a more rapid fashion," Chen said.

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