Vermont officials have taken the state’s Obamacare exchange offline entirely in an attempt to fix the website, which has long been riddled with functional glitches and security risks, before the next open enrollment period.
Like the federal government, Vermont hired CGI Federal to build its Obamacare exchange, but fired the company just one month ago after months of dealing with functional problems and security breaches. It’s replaced CGI with Optum, a subsidiary of top insurance company UnitedHealthcare. Optum now has just weeks to get the website up and running in time for Nov. 15.
“Bringing down the site to now make improvements with our new partner Optum is the best choice to deliver a well-functioning, secure website for customers for the open-enrollment period that begins Nov. 15,” Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement.
The exchange is facing serious technical glitches. Customers can’t change any personal information, such as addresses, once it’s in the system. State officials say 14,000 residents can’t update their coverage to reflect their changed circumstances. Small business enrollees can’t pay premiums online and customers have reported disconnects between insurers and the exchange.
But the most pressing problem appears to be the website’s security. Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s senior adviser on health care reform, said the state’s decision to shut down the website now is a “proactive step” to address security concerns.
“We take the advice of our security experts, and when they see the environment changing from a threat perspective, we change to meet that threat,” Miller said Tuesday, according to VT Digger. “You’re careful not to create an attractive target.”
And the exchange has already been a target. A Romanian hacker gained access to the exchange’s development server 15 times last December, National Review reported earlier this year, although no customer information was reached. The breach was undetected for a month.
When the exchange shut down Tuesday, it was disconnected from the federal data hub, a system that connects state exchanges to a long list of federal agencies and HealthCare.gov to share and verify customer information.
HealthCare.gov itself also continues to face serious security weaknesses, according to a nonpartisan federal report released Tuesday evening. (RELATED: GAO: HealthCare.gov Is Still Not Secure)