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

Lt. Gov. Scott: Delay Mandatory Health Care Exchange

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott wants to delay  the mandatory provisions of the state’s new health care exchange for a year because of ongoing technical problems at the Vermont Health Connect website.

The Shumlin Administration was hoping that the online payment system at the exchange would be operating by Dec. 1. But state officials said on Monday that the system isn’t ready and they aren’t sure when it will be.

"I agree with those who feel the mandate on small businesses should be postponed, if not lifted altogether." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

This development prompted both the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to ask the governor to delay the mandatory implementation of the exchange for a year.

Scott agrees with this delay. He’s currently out of state on vacation but in a statement he said: “I agree with those who feel the mandate on small businesses should be postponed, if not lifted altogether, due to confusion, uncertainties and the practicalities of getting the website up and running.”

In a recent interview, Scott detailed many of these concerns.

“This is a huge endeavor. This is ... the biggest thing that we’ve faced, I think, as a state from a technological standpoint ever. So maybe we should have planned just a little bit better; maybe we should have given it a little bit more time,” said Scott. “Whatever it takes to make sure that we get this right and give comfort to Vermonters."

Shumlin said the state is making progress with its website and this isn’t the time to delay the law.

“This is a marathon not a sprint. We’re getting close to being three-quarters of the way through this marathon. Let’s not give up now. Let’s keep running the race,” said Shumlin. “We’re making progress that’s going to lead us to more affordable, accessible health insurance for Vermonters and we can’t forget that that’s the prize.”

And Shumlin said there are some practical problems with a one year delay.

“The fact of the matter is if you’re going to extend coverage for a year you have to go through rate setting. That takes a long period of time. You can’t just pay the rates of last year, because then everybody else is paying for the increase you would have had,” said Shumlin. “So my point is: In health insurance, trust me, you think you have a simple solution, you don’t.”

But Scott thinks the state could work with Blue Cross and MVP to overcome these hurdles.

“We do only have a couple of insurance companies here in the state that we deal with so to make a deal with them probably wouldn’t be that difficult considering everything we’re going through,” said Scott.

The administration has announced several options for small businesses. If they’ve enrolled at the exchange, they’ll be able to keep their current policies for another three months. And companies will also be allowed to purchase their coverage directly from Blue Cross and MVP.

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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