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Vermont governor grappling with health website woes

WASHINGTON – Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has been battling through his own struggles with the health care insurance plan rollout, with computer woes that parallel those afflicting President Obama’s digital marketplace.

Vermont is among the states that opened its own version of the online health insurance exchange on Oct. 1, similar to the one Massachusetts has had in place since 2007.

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But to build it, Vermont hired the same principal contractor – CGI Group Inc., of Canada – as the US Department of Health and Human Services. The results have been similar: a plague of glitches.

Frustrated, Shumlin this week announced that about 100,000 Vermonters who were due to purchase new insurance plans by Dec. 31 now have until the end of March to obtain insurance under the federal mandate, giving CGI and Vermont officials more time to work through the problems.

Shumlin said he has wanted to ``strangle’’ CGI executives for their failures, and has been on the phone frequently with the company’s top executives. But he said he also understands that creating a health insurance marketplace on the Internet is a complex undertaking.

Once the bugs are worked out, he predicted during a visit to Washington Thursday morning, the state’s health care consumers will be happy with their options. For the time being, paper applications and checks are being used to work around the system and process consumer payments.

Shumlin did not have any estimates on how many Vermont residents who have individual health care plans now will be forced to give up their plans and purchase new plans – which meet federal standards. Asked if it were ``tens of thousands,’’ he said he believed it was not that many.

``I think the blame game is over when the technology works, which is not far away,’’ Shumlin said. ``The point is we’ll get there.’’

Shumlin, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, was a guest at a breakfast news conference hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

The final result of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Virginia was closer than earlier polls had suggested, with Democrat Terry McAuliffe eking out a narrow win over a Tea Party conservative Ken Cuccinelli. Pundits have suggested McAuliffe’s win was less decisive because of the rocky debut of Obama’s health care law and its increasing unpopularity.

Shumlin disputed that analysis. He said the Democratic Governors Association’s own internal polling always showed it a close race.

``I don’t think Obamacare had any impact on the Virginia election,’’ Shumlin said.

Democrats have opportunities to win governor’s races in 2014 in Maine, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states with Tea Party-backed incumbents, he said. He said Democrats would hammer the need for education spending, and slam Republicans for conservative views on social issues like abortion.

``Independent, swing voters are not excited by the agendas that these governors are implementing,’’ Shumlin said.

Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRowland.
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