GOP leaders call for ‘scrubbing' of exchange rollout

Top Republicans say firing the Canadian company that was building the state's health insurance website was long overdue and state officials who oversaw the botched rollout of Vermont Health Connect might need to be fired.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and two Republican legislative leaders held a press conference at the Statehouse Tuesday to respond to Monday's news that the state is ending its contract with CGI in September.

GOP leaders said they want to know if the problems with Vermont Health Connect were the result of bad management or technical difficulties. Scott called CGI's firing "welcome news," and said it should have happened six months ago. The Shumlin administration notified him only a few hours beforehand, he said.

House and Senate minority leaders Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, and Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said they were blindsided by the news Monday.

"We want to see that people that were involved in this process, whether it be all CGI's fault or just the administration, we think that there needs to be a real scrubbing of what happened before we go forth," Turner said.

Pressed on whether those who were in charge, namely Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, which was responsible for building the exchange, should be fired, Turner said he wants more information before making that judgement.

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Peter Shumlin said last month that he does not plan to make any changes in the leadership for health care reform and that it is his responsibility to fix Vermont Health Connect.

Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, defended the health care reform staff, and said he doesn't want to fire anyone, especially because so much has been invested in the people who have helped to build the exchange.

Scott said the press conference was meant to be constructive, not political. "I want this exchange to work," he said.

Sanders touts VA reform bill in Vermont stop

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION -- Sen. Bernie Sanders didn't get everything he wanted in the recent Veterans Administration reform bill, but at a news conference Wednesday he called it "the most significant piece of VA legislation we've seen in many, many years."

Seated alone at a table at the White River Junction VA hospital, Sanders, I-Vt., discussed the bipartisan bill he helped craft, which easily passed a usually divided Congress last week. President. Barack Obama signed the bill into law Thursday.

The new legislation allocates nearly $17 billion over three years to improve care and decrease wait times for military veterans around the nation.

"What we want to do is within a couple of years, make sure that every veteran that comes into the VA health care system is getting not only quality care, but they are getting timely care," Sanders said. "If there is anything this country must stand for, it is caring for the men and women who have sacrificed so much, and I intend to do everything I can to make that happen."

If he'd had it his way, Sanders said he would have allocated more money for the hiring of nurses and doctors, and added dental care to the list of benefits veterans receive, among other changes.

"It is compromise legislation that I would not have written if I had the option of writing it alone," he said. "But that's what compromise is about. And in a dysfunctional Congress where very, very little is getting done, I'm proud to say our legislation passed the House with an overwhelming vote and that was the case in the Senate."

The VA sees 6.5 million veterans a year, a number up 1.5 million from four years ago. More military personnel from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an aging veteran population, have increased the strain on the VA system, Sanders said.

"The cost of war is much deeper, much more significant, than most people understand," Sanders said.