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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Young, Healthy People Needed to Make Exchange Work

If you look at a profile of Vermont’s uninsured population, the largest group of people without health insurance is between 25 and 34.  And a majority of the uninsured work full time for a business that doesn’t offer coverage.

I think one of the outcomes may be that young people who are uninsured now will look at the Exchange and say well it is certainly not more affordable why should I enroll ? Peter Sterling, executive director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security

Peter Sterling is the executive director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security,  a group that has worked for several years to reduce the state’s uninsured population.

Sterling said many uninsured young people can’t afford the state’s existing programs. And he said premiums on the exchange, even with federal subsidies, are slightly higher than current costs. 

“I think one of the outcomes may be that young people who are uninsured now but eligible for Catamount or VHAP will look at the exchange and say, 'Well it’s certainly not more affordable why should I enroll?' ” said Sterling.

Sterling has spent the last 10 weeks as an official “health care navigator.”  In this role he’s met with hundreds of people who want to learn more about how the exchange works.

“I have not had a lot of people coming up to me to ask me for information who are under 30 years old which is a concern,” said Sterling. “Most of the people coming up to me are 40 or over.”

Mark Larson is the commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, the agency that oversees  the state’s exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect.  Larson said affording health care is a key issue for young people.

“Particularly the affordability on the premium side. Does it seem worth it to pay every month for a plan that some may feel like they’re not going to access on a regular basis because they’re young and healthy?” said Larson. He said his challenge is to convince young people to sign up.

“We think that coverage is important and we know that it’s just one accident or illness that can really have a major financial and overall impact in somebody’s life even if they are young,” said Larson. “So we do want to encourage people to check out the options and sign up.”

And Larson said young, healthy people play a critical role in the overall financial structure of the exchange.

“In the way that insurance works when you spread the risk across larger populations,” said Larson. “And you include a combination of folks who are healthier with those who may have more health conditions that does benefit the stability of the entire market.”

Larson said the long term solution to bringing young people into the exchange is to implement a universal, publicly financed system in which all Vermonters have coverage.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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