A Preview of Things to Come?

Health care reform advocates are not happy with the Shumlin Administration’s efforts to aide low to middle income Vermonters with their health insurance costs. Apparently, Vermonters in the Catamount Health and VHAP will see a considerable increase in their insurance rates when they are moved to the exchanges next year and the subsidies announced in the Governor’s budget address is not enough to offset the difference.  Here is the story from the Times-Argus:

Gov. Peter Shumlin last month unveiled a budget proposal that aims to ease health insurance costs for about 45,000 low- and middle-income Vermonters in 2014.

But advocates say the state aid won’t bring the price of insurance to within reach of poor and working-class residents, and that failing additional appropriations, thousands of Vermonters could soon join the ranks of the uninsured.

The onset of the “health benefit exchange” next year has triggered some soul searching in Montpelier, where elected officials are grappling with the issue of higher out-of-pocket costs facing many of the Vermonters who will soon be required to buy coverage in the new online insurance marketplace.

At issue are Vermonters living within 350 percent of the federal poverty level — the income threshold at which residents currently qualify for assistance in state programs like VHAP or Catamount Health.

When the exchange, to be called “Vermont Health Connect,” goes into effect on Jan. 1 of next year, Catamount and VHAP will disappear, taking with them the favorable rates credited for helping this state achieve one of the lowest percentages of uninsured residents in the nation.

At issue is the fact that the proposed assistance in the Governor’s budget does not match the rate increase involved with moving into the exchange:

In his budget address last month, Shumlin said his budget “makes certain that Vermonters currently enrolled in Catamount and VHAP do not suffer federally imposed cost increases” in the online exchange. But that’s not entirely true.

Robin Lunge, director of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, says it would cost about $26 million annually to preserve Catamount-level costs for the 45,000 or so Vermonters at Catamount-level incomes who will be thrust into the exchange next year.

Shumlin’s plan, however, appropriates $22 million to offset the higher prices in the exchange — about $4 million short of what it would cost to avoid any increases. While it doesn’t meet the “hold harmless” standard advocated by Sterling, Shumlin’s plan would temper the drastic increases that would have otherwise faced Catamount-eligible residents.

Could this be a preview of things to come in Vermont’s attempts at health care reform? It is not very likely that there is going to be enough money to satisfy the expectations raised by the mantra of free universal heath care fro all.