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

Report: Many Small Businesses Avoiding Health Care Exchange

A preliminary report shows that many small businesses have chosen to avoid Vermont’s troubled health exchange. Some companies are opting to extend existing coverage or they’ve chosen to buy health plans directly from health insurers.

Vermont is the only state in the country that mandated that all individuals and small businesses go through the exchange if they want to purchase health insurance coverage. But because of ongoing technical problems, several weeks ago Gov. Peter Shumlin announced several options for small businesses.

They could extend their current coverage until April 1 of next year, or they could purchase their policies directly from Blue Cross and MVP – effectively bypassing the exchange.

Kevin Goddard is a vice president at Blue Cross. He says a review of 1,300 small businesses shows that roughly one third of the companies are choosing the three month extension option and another 40 percent are buying policies directly from Blue Cross. Goddard says only 20 percent are deciding to purchase coverage through the exchange.

"It has turned out to be an important option, absolutely." - Blue Cross VP Kevin Goddard on businesses using new option to buy coverage directly from insurance companies because of ongoing problems at Vermont Health Connect

“The options that were announced by the governor a couple of weeks ago relaxed that requirement and provided these alternatives for folks to consider,” says Goddard. “One alternative being to enroll, and these are for small businesses, to enroll directly through either Blue Cross or MVP. It has turned out to be an important option, absolutely.”

Goddard thinks the extension option is popular because it gives businesses additional time to consider their options.

“It seems to make sense to me that with so much going on and all this happening in real time that maybe some folks are just electing to stay where they are for another few weeks and more closely evaluate their options,” Goddard says.

One of the reasons that many small businesses have stayed away from the exchange is because the on line payment program has never worked. Shumlin says that system is now undergoing some rigorous testing.

“I’m hopeful that it’s going to be working when we need to have it working. Obviously, the destiny of a test is just that it can test beautifully or it can test not so well. As you know I’m extraordinarily frustrated with our providers in this case therefore I’m not going to speculate on exactly what moment this test is going to work,” says Shumlin. “It will work the question is when. I’m more concerned about that than anybody.”

Shumlin says the Administration is working on another back up plan in case the on line payment program continues to have problems.

“I need to have contingencies to any eventuality in light of the disappointing results we’ve gotten from the vendors that we’ve contracted with,” says Shumlin. “I’m talking to them constantly. I talked to the CEO again yesterday on the phone, be talking to him again today. We’re continuing to push forward. We’re hoping the test works.

Shumlin says his goal is to have the on line payment system up and operating by the end of the month.

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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