by Paul Dame
Remember when President Obama promised us that “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it”? As many people will find out in less than 120 days this promise is not valid in Vermont. Next month the State exchanges will open and anyone who works at a business with less than 50 employees, is self-employed, or on Catamount or VHAP will be forced to drop the coverage they have today and buy a new policy – a direct violation of what was promised when the Affordable Care Act went in to place. In 2014 it will be illegal (and impossible) for any of those people to purchase insurance anywhere but through the state. So if you are in that group and you like your current policy – you are prohibited from keeping it.
I have had discussions with some of my clients who like the policy that they are on, and prefer it to what is being offered. One potential solution we had discussed was the possibility that by renewing their contract early, in December of 2013, they could keep their insurance for an extra 11 months, nearly through the end of 2014. And there were some people who were willing to do just that.
However on Friday I got a notice that disturbed me. The VT Department of Financial Regulation issued a bulletin (#179 dated 8/28/13) that informed agents that this practice was going to be categorically prohibited. The reason they gave was because during the month of December the individual would “re-set” their out of pocket deductible and other policy features early. For some people that may be inconvenient, but the fact is that everyone in the state would have their deductibles reset just 30 days later anyway.
The unnerving part of this is that the DFS has issued such a unilateral prohibition to agents, telling us (without knowing ANY of the details of the lives and financial situations of the human being sitting with us) that they know what will be best for 100% of Vermonters. BUT they will make exceptions for large groups. The prohibition applies only to individuals and smaller employers, but if you are a large corporation, above the 50 person mark, you are free to engage in the SAME practice without prohibition by the state.
This is clearly a double standard that is NOT intended to protect the interest of Vermonters – but instead is designed solely to force us little people to get in line with the State Exchange. If the prohibition had been made to ALL employers, it would at least have the APPEARANCE of being fair. But it explicitly targets “non-group and small group” policies in the bulletin’s title.
This continues to add to my growing concern about the direction of the health project our state is undertaking. We continually lump people into groups, treat them differently, and in the process remove the individual sovereignty that each of us ought to have over our own lives. When we have a DFS that is issuing bulletins that categorically restricts an individuals from doing something and thereby gives more rights to a larger corporation than an individual citizen, I have to think that we are not going in the right direction.
Paul Dame is the owner of Shepherd Financial Services in Essex Jct, VT