AP News

Vt health official apologizes for security comment


MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The state official overseeing the Vermont Health Connect health insurance exchange has apologized for not being fully candid when a legislator asked him during a committee hearing if there had been security breaches on the website.

"I was asked about whether any security failures had occurred in Vermont Health Connect," Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said of his testimony Nov. 5 to the Vermont House Health Care Committee.

"I responded that no situation had occurred where somebody's private information had been breached," he added in a letter of apology to the committee's chairman, Rep. Mike Fisher. The letter was dated Sunday and made public Monday.

Larson's letter came two days after The Associated Press reported, based on the fruits of a request under Vermont's public records law, that a security breach had been reported to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Oct. 17 — nearly three weeks before Larson's testimony.

The Oct. 17 incident report said a consumer, whom officials would not identify, had reported to Vermont Health Connect that he had received in the mail — from an unnamed sender — a copy of his own application for insurance under the state exchange.

"On the back of the envelope was hand-written 'VERMONT HEALTH CONNECT IS NOT A SECURE WEBSITE!' This was also (written) on the back of the last page of the printed out application," said the incident report.

Larson's letter to Fisher said he "should have instead also included in my response the facts of this single incident, and am sorry that my statements to the committee did not do so."

Both Gov. Peter Shumlin, who appointed Larson to his current post, and House Speaker Shap Smith, who had previously appointed Larson to lead the committee Fisher now leads, called Larson's actions "unacceptable."

"Vermonters have an expectation that those testifying in front of the Legislature, particularly public officials, will do so accurately and in a forthright manner," Smith said in a statement.

"Commissioner Larson did not meet those expectations when he testified in the House Health Care Committee on November 5th," the speaker added. "This failure is particularly troubling coming from a friend, former legislative colleague and Chair of the committee."

Shumlin said, "I take this incident extremely seriously. It is unacceptable to be anything less than fully cooperative and transparent with Vermonters and their elected representatives in the Legislature. I am tremendously disappointed in Commissioner Larson's lapse of judgment in this matter."

"The legislators in Montpelier represent the Vermonters we are all elected to serve, and they have a right to have their questions answered fully. That did not happen in this case, and I have made clear to Mark and other members of my administration that it must never happen again," the governor said.

Larson said in an interview Monday that it was "not an intentional act to mislead the committee. But I understand that my testimony should have been different and I take full responsibility for that and acknowledge the impact that it's had."


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