Staff Report

BENNINGTON -- Paper applications for Vermont Health Connect, the state’s version of the online health insurance exchange, are quickly piling up, VTDigger.org, an independent news organization based in Montpelier, reported Tuesday.

In Bennington, Joann Erenhouse, Vermont Health Connect navigator and Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, has single-handedly helped about a dozen local businesses and more than 50 individuals sign up for health insurance plans via paper applications, as opposed to signing up parties via the state’s issue-plagued online portal, since the exchange rolled out in October.

The paper applications like the ones Erenhouse has been utilizing are being processed by the Department for Children and Families, according to VTDigger.org.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone told VTDigger.org that there is a backlog of approximately 1,210 paper applications, some of which date back to as early as Oct. 30 of this year.

According to Yacovone, the paper applications are arriving in a steady stream -- approximately 100 per day -- and the department must process every last one on or before Dec. 23 so coverage may successfully begin in 2014.

VTDigger reported that DCF only reviews the exchange’s paper applications and only those for parties entering the exchange as families and individuals.

Yacovone told VTDigger.org that the steady income of applications has not proven to be shocking.

"I think the flow is what we had anticipated," he said, explaining that the department, in anticipation of the increased workload, hired 80 temporary workers to supplement the existing 45 permanent employees who previously processed Catamount, VHAP, and Medicaid applications.

According to Yacovone, the stockpile of applications exists despite the department’s augmented capacity because an issue with the Vermont Health Connect website prevented DCF staff from processing applications until Oct. 23.

Starting Thursday, Yacovone will put into effect a mandatory overtime requirement for all DCF staff, which will continue until all processing is complete, according to VTDigger.org.

"I’ve got a great staff," Yacovone told VTDigger.org, describing the strategy as an "all hands on deck" approach. "They are very dedicated and caring, but this is an important time to get these processed because we are on a deadline."

When the commissioner was asked whether the situation would be resolved by Dec. 23, Yacovone told VTDigger.org, "We’re going to make it happen one way or the other."