President Barack Obama proposed an “administrative fix” Thursday that would allow Americans to keep their current health insurance plans for one more year.
The president also said, “State insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can’t be sold in their state.”
Thursday night, Gov. Peter Shumlin indicated that his commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation would reserve that authority and not allow Vermonters to extend their current plans for another year.
After March 31, the roughly 100,000 Vermonters buying insurance independently or via businesses with 50 or fewer employees must buy new plans on the state-run market, Vermont Health Connect, a Web-based market that is still not fully functioning.
In a joint statement with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont CEO Don George and MVP Health Care Vice President Bill Little, Shumlin and the executives said Vermonters had sufficient options.
“Weeks ago, we made the decision to allow Vermont individuals and small businesses to extend their current plans through March 31, 2014, if they choose,” they said. “We remain confident in that timeframe and believe it will provide Vermonters the security and options they need as we continue to improve Vermont Health Connect and implement the federally-mandated reforms.”
Blue Cross and MVP are each selling nine plans on the state-run exchange. As a result of the market’s rocky start, Shumlin announced a contingency plan two weeks ago that included a three-month extension of current plans and gave small businesses the option of buying exchange policies directly from the insurers.
“Of course, as the White House provides more information on the federal changes announced today by the President, we will continue to work together, and with lawmakers and our Congressional delegation, to understand any further implications for Vermont,” Shumlin and the executives said. “But, at this time, we remain confident that the course we are on is the right one for Vermont.”
The president’s announcement came as the federal and Vermont online markets continue to be bogged down by technical snafus and delays.
“We fumbled the rollout on this health care law,” Obama said Thursday.
The president’s announcement was music to the ears of Vermont Republicans. On Wednesday evening Vermont Republican legislative leaders called on Shumlin to further delay the legal requirement for small businesses and individual Vermonters to buy insurance on the exchange. Vermont is the only state that has mandated the public’s participation in the exchange insurance market.
Darcie Johnston, who runs Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, called on Shumlin to heed the Republicans’ call and allow a one-year extension of current policies, as proposed by Obama.
“Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has heard the cries of thousands of Vermonters who want a one-year extension on their current health care plan,” she said.
Shumlin’s Press Secretary Sue Allen brushed aside these demands.
“The governor has made clear that he will not allow a situation where Vermonters are in danger of going without health insurance,” she wrote via email on Thursday. “It’s not surprising that those who voted against health care reform are still against health care reform. And it’s not surprising that they are more interested in looking for ways to undermine and derail reform than working constructively to make this federally-mandated law work for Vermont.”
As the New York Times reports, both aisles of Congress are looking at legislative fixes to some Affordable Care Act policies.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Congress should consider these amendments to the law.
“The uncertainty and confusion are creating real problems for people, and there need to be ongoing adjustments,” he said. “The issues in Vermont are not exactly the same as the issues in other states. The steps the president announced today, and the many bills that have been introduced, are on the table for discussion and deserve a close look.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the president had to keep true to his word that Americans could hold onto their current health insurance plans. The true solution to the health insurance system in the United States, he said, is a publicly financed single-payer system.
“Should we be content that people have the illusion that they are covered? No,” he said. “Should our goal be that everyone has adequate coverage? Yes.”