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

Shumlin Administration Warns Against One Year Delay in Health Care Exchange

The Shumlin Administration is defending its decision not to allow small businesses to extend their current health care coverage for a year.

Some business leaders are calling for this extension because of ongoing technical problems at the state’s new health care exchange. But the administration says the plan isn’t needed because they’ve put new options in place.

The call for a one year delay picked up momentum this week when the Shumlin Administration announced that the exchange’s on line payment system for small businesses still isn’t working.

Because of the technical problems, administration officials said businesses that have enrolled at the Exchange would have their current policies extended for the first three months of 2014.

This prompted Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop to urge the administration to delay the mandatory participation in the exchange for a year.

“I think the best approach right now is to find a simple solution for businesses so that people can be insured by Jan. 1 and there won’t be further changes in the 2014 insurance year,” said Bishop.

"We are seeing that play out by the numbers who have either directly enrolled through Blue Cross or MVP." - DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson on why a one year delay is not needed

Mark Larson is the Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. He said the delay would be impractical because it would take between four and six months to review new rates for Blue Cross and MVP.

Larson said the delay isn’t needed because many businesses are using an option of buying their 2014 coverage directly from the insurance companies.

"We’re seeing that play out by the numbers who have either directly enrolled through Blue Cross or MVP. Again that’s about two-thirds of Vermonters who get coverage through a small business owner and then others have taken advantage of the extension,” said Larson. “I think we’re very concerned that the idea of an extension, which means different things to different people, actually would enhance the confusion that people are feeling.”

Larson said the new health care exchange is a stepping stone to a single payer system that the Shumlin Administration hopes to put into place in 2017.

“That’s partly why we want to move in the long run to a universal system where the issue would be are you a Vermonter, and if the answer is 'yes,' then you’re covered,” said Larson. “And we avoid some of the frustration that people experience today.”

Larson said it’s important to remember that individuals can now finalize their coverage plans on the exchange. Once they select their policy, they’ll be sent an invoice and be able to pay for their coverage by writing a check.

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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