At the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, navigators -- the people in charge of explaining Vermont's new Health Care Exchange -- are spending the final day before it opens on the phone.
In July, staff interacted with 40,000 people, and 90,000 in August -- but expect call volumes to peak over the next few days. "Our phones have been very busy," said the Chamber's Shannon Wilson. "This is an entirely new way of purchasing health insurance for our employers and their employees and so understandably, there's some anxiety out there."
Any business with 50 or less full-time employees must either provide exchange coverage beginning in January, or pay an assessment per worker. In some cases, experts say it will be cheaper for bosses and workers not to have a company plan because individuals can receive substantial subsidies, but only if they are not offered coverage at work. And for employers, the penalty will be cheaper then offering insurance. "I don't imagine many employers who weren't offering coverage would start now," Wilson said.
"We wanted to do what was best for everybody, but we wanted to do what was best for Lenny's Shoe and Apparel as well," said Carol Wheeler, Business Manager for all three Lenny's stores, and one soon to open in Plattsburgh. She says after months of weighing options, they'll open 10 of the 18 plans Blue Cross Blue Shield is offering on the exchange to employees. "Nothing went down, that is for certain. All the premiums are going up. We hope it's not going to continue to go up year to year because in the past that's what we've seen, an increase year to year," Wheeler said.
The company offered two plans through Blue Cross Blue Shield in the past. But though the new coverage choices are similar to the old, Wheeler says they are still not sure the total bill -- and to be safe they are preparing for a seven percent cost increase. Wheeler says she thinks offering coverage is the right choice to keep and attract good employees, but says Lenny's won't do it again if promised future cost containment doesn't reimburse her faith. "It's a year to year thing and we're going to give it a shot this year," she said.
If you would like to speak with a navigator about your questions, call: 802-262-2160