Robocall vs. email-stuffer in the battle of health exchange rivals

The unveiling of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health insurance exchange, has spawned an email and phone-call battle between advocacy groups on opposite sides of the state’s exchange law.

Tuesday morning, during Vermont Health Connect’s dawning hours, a robocall sponsored by Vermonters for Health Care Freedom (VHCF) sought to rally 30,0000 Vermonters to call the governor’s office with two demands.

The call, which cost $800 according to VHCF executive director Darcie Johnston, encouraged people to ask Gov. Peter Shumlin to delay mandatory enrollment in the exchange for another year. It also instructed them to tell him to repeal the mandate entirely.

This is an illustration, not Vermonters for Health Care Freedom's actual inbox. Photo via Creative Commons

This is an illustration, not Vermonters for Health Care Freedom’s actual inbox. Photo via Creative Commons

About 100,000 Vermonters are legally required to buy insurance through Vermont Health Connect in 2014. In other states, participation in the exchange is voluntary.

Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), which supports the law, took issue with the content of that call and launched a counteroffensive.

The spat between advocacy organizations is information-oriented. The call suggested, according to Johnston, that, “many thousands of Vermonters could become uninsured come January because of the bungled Shumlin exchange.”

VPIRG’s consumer protection advocate, Falko Schilling, had two problems with that claim. “One, it was confusing, and two, it made people think they would all of a sudden be uninsured.”

According to VPIRG, the opposite is true — the number of Vermonters with insurance will rise under the ACA and the state’s eventual transition to a single-payer health care system.

VPIRG decided to counter VHCF’s campaign, and Schilling took a similar high-volume approach, targeting Johnston’s email inbox rather than the governor’s phone lines.

In an email blast to members, VPIRG urged people to email Johnston, asking her to put a halt to “the scare tactics and robocalls.”

The form letter, provided to members, tells Johnston, “Frightening Vermonters into believing that they will soon go uninsured just so you can score political points is irresponsible, and I’m sure, ultimately ineffective.”

Darcie Johnston. Courtesy photo.

Darcie Johnston. Courtesy photo.

In response, Johnston, who said she received roughly 200 emails, issued a news release Wednesday criticizing Schilling and VPIRG for adopting “totalitarian” tactics.

“What he did was mobilize his hordes to try to silence our message, not by calling the governor’s office and voicing their contrary opinions, but by flooding my email account,” the statement reads. “Now VPIRG has resorted to the methods favored by totalitarians everywhere – to suppress any dissent from their gospel of the all-powerful state.”

Schilling said VPIRG was simply giving its members a chance to express their dissatisfaction with what he described as VHCF’s fear-inducing political stunt.

“Our members are upset with all these attacks about the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and I thought it was appropriate to tell her what they thought about the campaign and the misleading scare tactics they were using,” Schilling said, in defense of the decision to direct VPIRG members to fill VHCR’s inbox.

Emails were sent to Johnston’s email account, Schilling explained, because that was the designated contact address on VHCF’s website.

VHCF’s news release rehashed its demands to Shumlin — to either delay the mandate or do away with it — and added one to the queue: “we call on Gov. Shumlin to publicly disavow the reprehensible tactics of his supporters at VPIRG, in attempting to silence our voice.”

The dispute between VPIRG and VHCF echoes another episode of sparring over the exchange, which played out in the op-ed section of VTDigger.org. On Sept. 29, Randy Brock, the 2012 Republican candidate for governor, contributed a commentary alleging that the exchange is dysfunctional and that the Shumlin administration has obfuscated major snags during the setup process.

The following day, Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, wrote a rebuttal. Larson’s op-ed defended the functionality of the exchange, and described Brock’s claims as “based on a combination of information that is inaccurate, outdated or both.”

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom’s “live” robocall with patch through to governor’s office

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom voicemail robocall

Alicia Freese

Leave a Reply

36 Comments on "Robocall vs. email-stuffer in the battle of health exchange rivals"

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation.

Privacy policy
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Wendy Wilton
2 years 7 months ago

Nothing new…VPIRG set up a sham website in 2012 in an attempt to play foul according to this VT Digger article:

http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2012/02/27/digger-tidbits-group-criticizes-activists-for-sham-websites-defunct-prescription-program-goes-by-the-boards/

Dave Tucker
2 years 7 months ago
The anti-ACA folks should be ashamed of themselves. But they aren’t. Instead of making reasonable points and providing suggestions to improve what they think is so flawed, they instead resort to trying to scare people into not taking advantage of, for some, their first opportunity to not have to worry that a health problem will put them into bankruptcy or both. I would bet that everyone one of these people, at both the federal and state level, already enjoy the same protections they seek to deny to others, and hypocrite is not a strong enough word to describe what they… Read more »
Cheryl Pariseau
2 years 7 months ago

Dave: There was noting about the robo call from VHCF that would have prevented anyone who want to participate to participate. It was to remove the mandatory participation for individuates and small businesses. Vermont is the only state in the entire country that is forcing the exchange on is citizens. I for one do not like the fact that I am being forced into a system that I do not want to participate in; however, I do not want to deny you access to a system you would like to participate in.

Dave Tucker
2 years 7 months ago
A few years ago, I stepped on a nail and had to go to the emergency room because it was after hours for my primary care doctor. The bill for that visit was just under $1200. When I next saw my primary physician, I asked him what about checking my foot and giving me a tetnus shot cost $1200. He said that about half of that charge was due to the subsidization that those with insurance make to offset the cost of providing service to those who don’t. Someone’s reluctance or inability to afford health insurance shouldn’t result in those… Read more »
Scott Williams
2 years 7 months ago
It seems that everything I read that is created by or related to Ms. Johnston screams of a combination “victim speak” and hyperbole. I noticed this during Mr. Brock’s campaign (who I seriously considered voting for until his media messaging began to look like Ms. Johnston’s rants). She has chosen to run a media campaign against a public policy decision and law- but its “reprehensible tactics” for a group on the “other side” to send emails to her self-id’d account? I for one find the hysterical tone so off putting that I no longer attempt to glean any actual info… Read more »
Jane Stein
2 years 7 months ago

I wonder, not for the first time, what exactly it is Ms. Johnston thinks she’s accomplishing. Her harsh, wildly exaggerated messaging ain’t exactly designed to appeal to Vermonters’ sensibilities. Maybe she’s a Prog mole who’s actually trying to discredit her movement and thoroughly alienate Vermonters from her “cause.” Or maybe it’s just self-indulgent shrieking using somebody else’s dime.

Craig Powers
2 years 7 months ago

If you do not like the message, then do not read it. Pretty simple. I do not agree with VPIRG’s stance on much and therefore do not read it or give it much thought. You should try the same.

Have you tried to sign up for coverage on the mandated VHC website? It is a horror show and will cost close to $176 million if it ever works! That, Ms. Stein, is not a “harsh, wildly exaggerated” message. That is government stupidity, waste and arrogance.

Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago

After getting one of those ugly robo- voices hysterically yelling at me over the phone, I was glad to see the suggestion to email the contact person for “Vermonters for Health Care Freedom about it. They are total hypocrites : trying to scare people away from an opportunity to have more affordable health care is not “freedom”…..

Cheryl Pariseau
2 years 7 months ago
More affordable health care??? Maybe for some, but for me I am looking at and 80% premium increase ($194.02 to $346) per month. I am not eligible for a subsidy because it is based on the entire household income. Nevertheless, this 80% increase will not include me covering my daughter, which I do now. If I were to continue covering my daughter my premiums would be about $800 per month. My deductible will double ($3000 to $6000 again just for covering myself) and I will no longer have vision coverage. I will for the first time in my life be… Read more »
Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago

Cheryl – You’re exactly right, more affordable for some, but a real hardship on others.
Putting everyone in the exchanges is for the goal of making it work better in 2017, but that is no comfort for anyone in your position right now.
I am frustrated by this difficult process, and see that the biggest reason it is so difficult and complicated is that the ACA just couldn’t let go of the insurance industry model. What we need is Medicare for all, and to get there from here is not easy.

Mike Oltedal
2 years 7 months ago

Health care is broke and needs to be fixed
Far left and far right needs to stay out of things
and let the middle try to come up with a solution.
If the current offering is the proper way to go about it I
do not know – i do know that the political fight over this has put us directly in harms way and I do not understand how that helps the issue. Fact remains health care is still broke

Chris Lewis
2 years 7 months ago

Mike, I agree with you.

My concern is that when government gets involved, seldom (if ever) does this fix anything. We’ve been told by the government that GMHC will save money. We’ve been told GMHC will cover the current uninsured. We’ve been told this will make health insurance easier to navigate and understand. So far the state has not met any of these promises.

Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago
These are the goals when Vermont can establish its own system in 2017. It is a work in progress .Meanwhile we have to do the exchanges mandated by the ACA, and this helps some & not others. I am very frustrated by this process too – especially the part of this exercise that doesn’t adequately help Catamount- insured people make the transition. We were promised better – but the “government” had to deal with people ready to pounce if the wealthiest had to bear even a very small tax surcharge to help with the situation . And though different parts… Read more »
Walter Carpenter
2 years 7 months ago

“but its “reprehensible tactics” for a group on the “other side” to send emails to her self-id’d account? ”

Good point, Scott. Although not a member of VPIRG or associated with them, I am glad that they did it. They gave Ms. Johnston a taste of what she dished out.

John McClaughry
2 years 7 months ago
Does anybody deny that the law requires that lots of people with small group and nongroup policies must buy new policies on the Vermont Health Connect before January 1 – which they can’t if VHC isn’t operative well before then? VHCF asked Shumlin to use the waiver authority in Act 171 ( a law that Shumlin signed) to allow people to continue with their present policies if the exchange isn’t fully functional. Is there something wrong with that? VHCF asked Shumlin to seek repeal of the state monopoly provision of the exchange law. This makes makes Vermonters, alone among people… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago

Ms. Johnston’s tired message /cliche, backed by misinformation, that government can’t do anything right and the so-called”free market” will solve everything needs to be given a rest.
The so called free market is the U.S. has produced the most expensive health care per GDP with dismal results(U.S. ranks 51st in life expectancy) compared to other advanced countries and we still have millions uninsured and under insured. Health care is not like buying a flat screen T.V. as she and Randy Brock preached.

Craig Powers
2 years 7 months ago
Jerry, Your tired old statements that health care is perfect everywhere else in the world is a large part of the problem with reform here in VT. Your unwillingness to allow any private interests as part of the solution has put us where we are today because your message has fallen on the ears of legislators who simply do not understand the mess they have created. 100,000 people FORCED to buy through an Exchange that currently does not work worth a damn at a cost of $176 million. Single payer will not work on a state level..admit it and start… Read more »
Lee Russ
2 years 7 months ago

He never said it was “perfect” everywhere else. Why do you claim that he said that?

You passionately believe that single payer will not work on a state level. Passion, however, does not make that true.

Walter Carpenter
2 years 7 months ago
“Your unwillingness to allow any private interests as part of the solution has put us where we are today..” It is private insurance which has largely created this mess and it cannot be the solution to it. Yes, the way this nation does its Medicare/Medicaid has contributed its share to the mess we are in, but it is the general reliance on private insurance which is why our health care is so ridiculously expensive, covers so few, and why this nation leads the world in medical bankruptcies. You say that Jerry’s statements are “tired.” To you they may sound “tired,”… Read more »
Dave Williams
2 years 7 months ago
I read this lady’s recent commentary piece on how to reform our health care system here at VT Digger. She and Howard Dean (who had a recent interview here on VT Digger) both agree that single payer health care was a bad choice. It would bet that much of the criticism is coming from those, like VPIRG, that have pushed for single payer health care. This explains VPIRG’s reaction and prior sabotage to misdirect internet traffic as mentioned in the linked article in the first comment. I don’t agree with such tactics. Is there any way to see, or better… Read more »
Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago

Dave – Glad I checked back after a day or 2. I really did get a “hysterically yelling” robocall..it was so hard to listen to that I hung up after a few sentences. I didn’t get the nice calm lady doing the VHCF robo-call. The call I got was definitely about the ACA and asking me to make a call. I made an assumption it was the VHCF call being talked about, without being able to check it out until now. I don’t usually get robo-calls…all I can think is that it was a Tea Party thing ??

Dave Bellini
2 years 7 months ago
I think a lot of the controversy about the Vermont health care law would go away if the plans truly were “affordable.” The out of pocket expenses and deductibles scare me. Who has several thousand dollars laying around in case of illness? . Why are only the premiums subsidized and not the out of pocket expenses? . The plans offered through the exchange are unfair to low and middle income families. Catamount and VHAP were better. . Why not have all health care expenses paid for by premiums, THEN SUBSIDIZE the premiums??? Based on income….. Too logical? . I’m afraid… Read more »
Walter Carpenter
2 years 7 months ago
“I’m afraid the “single payer” true believers are in for a rude awakening. The “single payer” model the state of Vermont has in mind for folks in 2017 will look exactly like the plans you see in the exchange today.” Dave, are you sure? For one, are not these exchange plans, their rates, and all more or less federal rather than state. Deductibles and out-of-pockets too? Until we can get over this private insurance model of co-pays, deductibles, health plans according to income strata, and all the rest of it, we will always have these problems, which are unknown in… Read more »
Dave Bellini
2 years 7 months ago
Walt, I’m not 100% sure since there is no way to predict the future with complete certainty. However: “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” So, let’s examine past behavior: . 2 years ago, this administration tried to eliminate the out of pocket max protection for expensive cancer drugs, for state employees. They did not succeed but they tried hard to do this. State employees would have had to pay 40% for many extremely expensive cancer and M.S. drugs. Nice guys huh? . This administration will not provide health insurance to many full time state employees who are… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago
It’s one thing to believe that a “single payer System won’t be any good, in spite of evidence to the contrary…It’s another to distort facts as Ms. Johnston perpetually does to state her case. As far as people leaving the state, Vermont is in the top ten of states in percentage new comers arriving and Vermont is #1 in % ofyounger new comers. Also also they rank #2 in education. Mass. is #1. We must be doing something right. Moreover 2 years ago there was rally of medical students in Montpelier that they would practice in Vermont due to single… Read more »
Al Walskey
2 years 7 months ago
I’m not a fan of Darcie J. but would like to hear the audio of the robo call so I can make an informed decision. Where can I hear it? Vermonters for Health Care Freedom had a despicable meeting some time ago in conference room 11 that was presided over Senator Randy Brock. I came with an open mind to learn if there were any valid complaints or reasonable suggestions that could be adopted to improve the bill for health care. I was shocked at the language and accusations against those who were pushing for health care reform. It was… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago

Hi Al,
The audio is now posted in this story.
Thanks for asking.
Anne Galloway
Editor and Co-Publisher, VTDigger

Marie Parker
2 years 7 months ago
Cheryl – You are spot on in m opinion. The exchange is not ideal for all. From what I have seen and have heard from others, is the cost is too high. Either the deductables are high or the premiums are high. You have a choice to pick how you want to pay – upfront or after services. I work in healthcare and can tell you the individuals who do not have insurance pay the most for the same care/procedures that others have coverage for. That coverage is negotiated between the service providers (hospitals) and the insurance company. If everyone… Read more »
Dave Williams
2 years 7 months ago
Thanks for the audio link. A number of the above comments were off base, especially the one claiming that the robo call had “voices hysterically yelling at me “. It always helps getting the info at the source and not relying on biased partisan comments. I agree that there has to be an escape plan if the exchange is not able to get all the 100,000 insured by the deadline. Enacting the waiver sounds like a good backup plan. The Times Argus had a report last week that MVP and Blue Cross were worried about meeting the deadline as they… Read more »
Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago

Dave – Just clarifying… my comment wasn’t “partisan” , it was based on actually experiencing a robo-call that was yelling hysterically at me about the ACA ! Thanks to your & Al’s request, I can hear the VHCF call for verification & affirm that what I got was not the same. My mistake, but not one made on purpose. Bad Tea Party timing…..

Ken Hertz
2 years 7 months ago

The whole thing would indeed be much simpler if we had a single payer system. I rather like the system I saw in Germany: basic coverage under a single payer system, supplementary coverage on the open market.

Dan McCauliffe
2 years 7 months ago

Ken, Germany is not a single payer system as you imply. It is a multi-payer system (also known as a hybrid system) with financing from both private and public (taxes) funds. I suggest you read this German physician’s description of their health care system for more details. http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/199450051.html

Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago
I read the article on the German system – here’s the opening : The German health system is more complex than it seems, and is a multi-payer system. Every working person has to pay about 15 percent of his or her salary for health insurance. There are more than 130 health insurance companies. About 10 percent of the population is, as we call it, privately insured. You’d have to earn more than 46,000 euros (about $60,000) to have the right to be a “private patient.” The unemployed and homeless are taken care of by the state, i.e., taxpayers. The market… Read more »
Dan McCauliffe
2 years 7 months ago
Paula, I strongly agree with you that the US needs to reform its health care system to make it more affordable and accessible to all. Evidence shows that the European mixed payer (publicly and privately funded) systems are superior to the single payer Canadian model that Vermont is adopting, as I have shared in previous VTDigger posts. Canada is one of the few remaining single payer health care systems in the world, and this may change as the long waiting times are harmful to patients and creating an impetus to reform the Canadian system to be more like the mixed-payer… Read more »
Paula Schramm
2 years 7 months ago
“With the very large US deficit and aging US population, we as a state, and as a nation have our own very big challenges ahead.” Yes, we certainly do have very big challenges, and one of them is reforming health care. I don’t have the time to research all that you write, but logically the argument on Canadian bankruptcies doesn’t really make sense. Of course people can face bankruptcy when they can’t work because of illness – but that is not the same as going bankrupt because you can’t pay your medical bills, which is not the problem in Canada.(… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Robocall vs. email-stuffer in the battle of health exchange rivals"