Vermonters required seek health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act can now begin to make choices about the coverage they want.
Companies with fewer than 50 employees, and anyone else who doesn't get health insurance through work, will need to purchase a policy through a marketplace called Vermont Health Connect starting next January. The state Monday posted the proposed rates for the various plans being offered by Blue Cross-Blue Shield and MVP.
Reporter Steve Bottari: If I already have health insurance, how does this affect me?
Robin Lunge, Director of Health Care Reform: So if you work for a small business or if you don't have insurance through your employer this gives you a sense that the prices that you're paying today are not going to be substantially higher -- probably -- in the exchange.
For instance, the state says a single self-employed person earning $40,000 a year could go from a $600 a month premium, down to $317 a month. For a family of four, making $34,000, the state says their premium would drop from $700 a month to $45.
Officials with Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a group that has criticized the administrations approach, says the examples they came up with look good on paper, but don't reflect reality. "Since the average family is making $66,000 and the examples that the administration put forth are much lower, then that it's really hard to tell what, if any, savings there are or if these plans cost more," said the group's Darcy Johnston
Specifically, the group is worried about where the bulk of the savings come from -- a federal tax credit. "This house of cards is built on the fact that these federal tax credits will be coming back to the state, but we've got a federal government that is not exactly flush with cash," Johnston said.
The administration's Robin Lunge says the tax credits aren't at risk. "They are a tax credit so they don't go through the typical budget process. They are not impacted by the sequestration process that people might have heard about on the news, so we're confident that those federal premium tax credits will be available for Vermonters in 2014," she said.
All told, the state says some 40,000 people will be eligible for the credit and 100,000 people will enter the exchange. But Johnston and other critics point out that if the marketplace was better than the current system, the state wouldn't have to force people into the program. "If it's not flawed then let's make it voluntary and everybody will go to the exchange because it's a great system -- but we don't see that yet," she said.
Now that the plans have been released, both sides say the numbers will do the talking. A public comment period now opens on the proposed rates and the Green Mountain Care Board has the final say. After that, the state says it's ready to start enrolling people in October, with coverage starting in January.
The plans must still be approved by the Green Mountain Care Board, but the Shumlin administration says it's pleased that the rates are comparable to current plans, but with much better coverage. And with available federal tax credits and sliding scale fees, many participants could see much lower rates.
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