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

Uninsured And Unemployed Ask Questions At Health Care Open Houses

Charlotte Albright
Jeremy Ste Marie, of Danville, talks about insurance with state navigator at an informational open house in St. Johnsbury

When it comes to switching from workplace health insurance to new policies marketed through the Exchange, many employees are relying on human resource directors to sign them up.

But people without employers or insurance don’t have that advantage. So they are bringing their concerns and questions to open houses around the state, including one recently hosted by the Northeast Chamber of Commerce at the Green Mountain Mall in St. Johnsbury.  

At tables set up in front of the Chamber office sandwiched between Radio Shack and J C Penney, a steady stream of Northeast Kingdom residents queried state navigators and representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP Healthcare, the only two providers in Vermont’s Exchange.

Cathy Fulkerson is in her fifties, single, and newly unemployed. She’s paying almost 700 dollars a month for a Cobra policy, ands needs something more affordable if she does not return to work.

“Or if I do work it’ll just be part-time and it may not be enough to be part of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, so this is really important for me, as part of my evaluation process. What am I going to be paying for insurance?” Fulkerson asked.

This was just an open house, not a sign-up session, so she couldn’t get a definite quote. But Fulkerson hopes to cut her monthly premium in half.

At another table, two Danville chiropractors, who are married, handed their nine-month-old daughter to the Chamber’s Executive Director  Darcie McCann so they can explore their options. Jeremy Ste Marie says until now they have not been able to afford a $1,600 monthly premium for their entire family.

“Well, actually I’m on a plan now with the kids and Marge doesn’t have health insurance right now,” Ste Marie explained.

“I was previously on health insurance while I was pregnant and then I stopped after that…only out of necessity,” said his wife, Marjorie.

Jeremy nodded. “It’s like, who needs it most,” he said.

McCann, of the Chamber of Commerce, guesses  they will probably get a family plan they can afford now. McCann said Vermonters who are either self-employed or living at or near the poverty line are generally finding good rates  and subsidies through the  Exchange.

“I think it’s going to be really, really strong for them. I’ve talked with a lot of people who have come in here and their income is well below 46 thousand dollars a year, and they are looking at savings – remember Medicaid is going to expand out, so the subsidies that they are getting are significantly expanded,” McCann said.

For those who have been struggling financially, McCann said, savings can range between 200-500 dollars a month.

But Don Steen, a local veterinarian, thinks the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare ,is unfair to people already insured who may see their costs rise so that almost everyone can get coverage. 

“I’m probably going against the mainstream in Vermont, particularly, but it doesn’t seem logical to me, and it seems to me like the inordinate amount of the cost of this is being put on people that are already paying, and I am totally against that,” Steen said.

There were are also people at this open house who lamented the loss of the state-subsidized Catamount health insurance program. Catamount will no longer be available as of January 1, so they may now pay more than they used to for less comprehensive coverage.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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