Vermont's new health care exchange is due to open in almost exactly one year but many questions remain. Though plenty of requirements still need to be written, officials are touring the state to separate reform fact from fiction.
Residents who raise questions without clear answers could help shape the yet-to-be-developed guidelines at both the state and federal level.
A mix of local legislators, small business owners, and individuals met on the second floor of the Rutland Free Library Monday Monday evening. They came to hear the details of health reform from the people helping to write the book on it.
Jim Harrison - president of the Vermont Grocers' Association - represents about 400 shop-owners who operate about 600 stores. Under federal and state reform laws, Many will be required to offer insurance plans through the state exchange - or face a penalty.
"Over half of our membership will be affected in one way or another," he said, "they have an enormous task ahead of them and there's a lot of details and a lot of things that need to be fleshed out."
Harrison asked several detailed questions including:
1) if individuals could opt out of plans offered by employers and enter the exchange as an individual.
a. short answer: no
2) The breakdown of subsidies and deductible caps as they relate to income levels.
a.Individuals will receive cost breaks if they earn less than 400 percent of the poverty level. However some will get bigger breaks than others but some of the specifics still need to be written.
Vermont Director of Health Care Reform Robin Lunge says she'll find answers to questions she cannot answer now - but adds that most are curious about the basics. Such as, ""What is the exchange?', 'what do the plans look like?', 'how do they differ from today?'."
Lunge says she frequently needs to explain that the insurance plans aren't government run. The government exchange is simply a state service for Vermonters to buy private plans with the help of benefits to benefits comparisons. Residents will be able to purchase insurance from the exchange in-person, by phone, or online.
When questions show potential weaknesses in guidelines or plans, Lunge can make sure concerns are addressed at the state level. Next week, she'll travel to Washington, D.C. to push for answers on sticking points at the federal level. "Most of the outstanding questions we're still waiting on the (federal government)," she said.
Harrison says he's glad the state offers the opportunity for back and forth. "At the end of the day though, what's really important is what is it going to cost," he said.
Consumers may not know for sure, until the market opens next October and policies begin in January of 2014.
The next insurance exchange forum will be held at the Bennington Free Library, October 10th, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Thirteen mostly-Democratic states have formally committed to create their own exchanges. Those that don't will be required to implement a version created by the federal government.