Some Vermonters thought they were being scammed when they picked up the phone and heard this:
"Hi, my name is Brian. I'm calling for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulations Insurance Division. We're doing an important survey to learn about insurance in Vermont."
Turns out it's not a scam at all. The Department of Financial Regulation hired an independent research marketing firm from Maine to get a snapshot of health insurance in Vermont. "We're just trying to get a gauge of how Vermonters are covered and how well they're covered," said Sarah Lindberg, who oversees the study for the DFR. She said 7,500 Vermonters have already been called randomly on landlines and cell phones. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete -- and you'll be asked questions like this:
Are you covered by any type of health insurance? Does your health insurance plan cover at least some of the cost of prescription drugs? What is the monthly premium paid for your health insurance?
Lindberg said the information gathered will help guide health care reform. In 2014 the state will switch to a health care exchange, where some Vermont workers and employers will be required to shop for health insurance through an online marketplace. Critics say this will drive health care costs up for small businesses. But the marketing group says the calls made so far reveal many Vermonters are confused about the coverage they have right now.
"I hope it inspires people to get out their insurance packets and find out what they really have, really learn what their insurance really is," said Brian Brinegar with Market Decisions.
Preliminary numbers do show improvement. The last time the study was conducted, in 2009, an estimated 7.5 percent of Vermonters were uninsured. This latest study shows that number has dropped to 5-percent, three times better than the national average.
As for the scam aspect, the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program's Jason Duquette-Hoffman, says he's pleased consumers are harder to get information from and that continued vigilance is key. "It's always reasonable to try and verify it before you respond. And any survey is going to value your response whether it's right then and there or after you verify the legitimacy of the survey," he said.
Consumer advocates remind the public to never divulge their bank account, social security, Medicare or Medicaid numbers to telemarketers.
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