Small businesses had lots of questions Monday about Vermont Health Connect, the new state health care exchange getting started in October. "There's no easy access to definitions for what's modified adjusted gross income," said Jan Marinelli with Versante.
The forum aimed to keep businesses informed about changes to health coverage, and to hear from them about what needs to change before the exchange opens.
"Guessing is not really an option," said Mike Plageman, a partner in a home remodeling company -- Plageman, Gagnon and Daughters. He has 12 employees, so his company, along with others with 50 or fewer full time workers, are required to get health coverage through Vermont Health Connect. The exchange is a requirement of the federal health reform law. About 100,000 Vermonters are expected to get coverage through the exchange, either because they work for a small business, or will buy insurance on their own.
Plageman says its been frustrating trying to sort out the impact of the changes on his business. "I don't know that they can make it any easier other than getting the information to us to make the decision. October 1st is when this opens up. I have not had enough information in front of me to have a meeting with all of my employees and say, this is what you guys are going to be looking at," he said.
Insurance rates approved by the Green Mountain Care Board Monday will help him and other business owners decide what to do. Federal law requires four levels of plans: Bronze is the least expensive but has a bigger deductible. Platinum costs more per month but has a small deductible. One example -- The approved rates show a standard "silver" level plan for an individual would be $395 dollars a month through Blue Cross -- and $410 a month through MVP. Insurance experts tell us the rates are on par with what's available now in the small business market.
"The good news is that the rates are comparable to what people are getting right now and we are going to be drawing down hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money to help middle income and low income Vermonters and small businesses pay for those rates," said Gov. Peter Shumlin. "So the big struggle for businesses right now, for job growth, is the rising cost of healthcare... ...This is going to help make it more affordable."
But the exchange will impact each business and each worker differently. Tax breaks, subsidies and income levels will all change how much it will cost. And some health plan details are still not finalized. "I don't know. I can't tell them we are going to continue to provide health insurance for you or we're going to contribute to your health insurance, or goodbye and good luck. I can't make that decision yet," Mike Plageman said.
Employers who do not offer insurance will have to pay the state about $400 a year per employee. Their workers would then go to the exchange on their own to buy coverage. That Vermont Health Connect exchange opens in October, with plan coverage starting next January.