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Officials: Vermont Health Connect exchange ready to enroll residents beginning Saturday

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — Vermont's health insurance exchange is ready for the new open-enrollment period that begins Saturday, officials say.

Lawrence Miller, director of health care reform for the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, told reporters Wednesday that security and functionality problems that have plagued the health insurance purchasing system in the past have been resolved.

"I think we have to demonstrate that the steps we have taken will relieve the burden on Vermonters," Miller said.

The comment came more than 13 months after the launch of Vermont Health Connect, the state-administered health insurance marketplace set up under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Vermont Health Connect ran into immediate troubles with enrolling people and small-business clients, keeping their information secure and other problems. It ended up sharply reducing the role of its original prime contractor, CGI, and hiring a new one, Optum. Miller also replaced Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson as the main official overseeing the program.

In September, the Vermont Health Connect website was taken down after federal officials warned the state about continuing security problems.

The enrollment period for insurance coverage next year runs from Saturday through Feb. 15. For individuals and families without employer-sponsored health care, Miller said, the system will be up and running, beginning this weekend. People who already have enrolled and whose circumstances have not changed don't need to do anything but continue paying their premiums, he said.

People who've had a change in circumstance, such as marriage, divorce, birth or death in the family, will need to take action to be sure their information is entered in the system properly. They can contact Vermont Health Connect through its website, by telephone or by talking with community-based counselors, or "navigators."

Miller noted that the state exchange won't be able to meet one of its major goals for at least another year.

As originally envisioned, it was to be the place for small businesses — those with 50 or fewer employees — to buy health insurance. Amid the troubles earlier this year, businesses were told to deal directly with the insurance carriers that were to offer their products through the exchange.

By legal definition, small businesses in 2016 will be those with 100 or fewer employees, but Miller said he doubts the state will be ready to require them to buy insurance through the exchange during the open-enrollment period that starts next November. Instead, he said, he hopes the state can offer the option of buying through the exchange or directly from insurance companies.

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