By Guy Page
The Individual Health Insurance Mandate bill, H.524, would eliminate faith-based health expense cost-sharing in Vermont. However, cost-sharing advocates are pushing back.
About 500 Vermont families participate in health expense cost-sharing programs, attorney Dave Sterrett said during a visit to the Vermont Statehouse on Tuesday. He represents several health-expense cost-sharing organizations. Members pay a monthly fee and participate in networks in which they help pay each other’s health care bills with reduced-rate, direct cash payments to health care providers. Many of these groups are faith-based. The system began with the Amish, was adopted by Mennonites, and is now used by more than a million American families nationwide, Sterrett said.
In his March 19 letter to all Health Care Committee members, Ed Chase of Westford describes how health care sharing works for his Vermont daughter’s family:
My daughter’s family participates in one of the health care sharing ministries and they have never failed to pay any of their family’s health care expenses that exceeded the $300 copay they have. Well care is not covered, but you may not be aware that many medical organizations provide serious discounts to people who pay at the time of service. Her pediatrician, for example, gives a 50% discount if the member is paying them directly because it saves them all the administrative expense of billing insurance. Further, if she pays at the time of service, there is an additional 25% discount, so she ends up paying only 25% of what an insurance company would be billed.
Health-sharing is exempted from the “Obamacare” federal individual mandate to have health insurance. H.524 would eliminate that exemption. It also “would prohibit licensed brokers from accepting payment for enrolling Vermont residents in certain health expense-sharing arrangements,” the bill’s introductory statement says.
H.524 was introduced March 15 by the Health Care Committee and later this week is scheduled to appear before the Ways and Means Committee. At least one member of Ways and Means said his committee may restore the federal health-sharing exemption.
If so, that decision may please Chase and the hundreds of affected Vermont families. His letter concludes, “All this goes to say that her family has excellent medical coverage for anything that would cost over $300 and it saves her a considerable amount of money compared to conventional insurance.”
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.