With less than a month to go before the rollout of Vermont Health Connect, lawmakers who helped implement the reforms got a chance to call in for some last-minute questions.
Starting next month, thousands of Vermonters who pay for their own insurance, along with business owners with fewer than 50 employees, will have a decision to make-- a choice of 18 insurance plans offered by private and public insurers, all available through the new state insurance exchange. The state has invested some $20 million in the effort with a new toll-free call center, health exchange software, public forums and hiring hundreds of navigators to help people figure it all out. Officials say they're ready.
"We are certainly still finalizing things and the main thing at this point is just to get the word out to Vermonters and make sure everybody knows again about the health plans that are available to them on the marketplace and what they can get for coverage January 1," said Lindsey Tucker of Vermont Health Connect.
Some of the most common questions, even among lawmakers, are who is eligible and what subsidies are available. Beyond the nuts and bolts of the plan, there is also the question of how to get the public's attention.
"I think a lot of folks are unaware of what's coming up. They're not thinking about it. And those that are, are very confused," said Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County.
Flory says a new TV advertising campaign doesn't help.
"I wouldn't have even known what they were advertising. I think some clear-cut ads, saying, 'Hey folks, you gotta do this. It's gotta happen now.' Putting the telephone numbers up where people can call would be very helpful," Flory said.
And for skeptics who pushed for single-payer in the first place, the ultimate success of the exchange is still in question.
"It's one thing to set up an exchange that works, in the sense of providing people with the information they need, but the real proof of its success or not is whether it saves us money in the long run and that's, frankly, what I'm not sure of," said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington County.
Ready or not, the countdown is on to the launch of Vermont's health care future.
Vermont Health Connect this week started up a new toll-free call center with a line for small business owners and one for individuals.
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