Insurers sorting out effects of governor’s contingency plan

MVP Vice President Bill Little speaks at Thursday's news conference announcing contingency plans for the state's new health exchange program. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

MVP Vice President Bill Little speaks at Thursday’s news conference announcing contingency plans for the state’s new health exchange program. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

A day after the Shumlin administration announced a back-up plan for its new health insurance market, the two insurance providers began working out the details.

On Jan. 1, Vermont Health Connect was set to become the sole health insurance marketplace for roughly 100,000 Vermonters buying insurance independently or through businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Due to technical glitches, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday announced new options for buying and keeping insurance at the beginning of 2014.

One of the two main options the administration has put on the table for Vermonters is the choice to extend their current health insurance plans until March 31.

What does that mean? If some Vermonters have already hit their annual out-of-pocket limits, what will they be liable for during the three-month extension of coverage?

“Those details are currently being worked out as we speak between the Department of Financial Regulation and the insurance companies,” Robin Lunge, the administration’s director of health care reform, said Friday.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care are selling a total of 18 plans through the online exchange, and their executives are working closely with state regulators.

The administration is also giving small businesses and their employees the option to buy Vermont Health Connect plans directly from the insurers, rather than through the state’s troubled website.

“I think this is different than the whole debate around providing an ‘outside market,’” Lunge said. “Allowing Vermonters to buy directly through an insurance company is not providing an outside market. It’s providing another channel to Vermont Health Connect plans.”

Lunge said the administration’s decision to create new opportunities to buy health insurance had more to do with the level of apprehension surrounding the new Web-based market than it did any particular glitch.

“We have been hearing from Vermonters loud and clear that they are feeling anxious about the current state of the technology, so we wanted to give folks new options that didn’t involve the technology so they would have options they would feel more secure with,” she said.

At a Friday meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee, legislators on both sides of the aisle thanked Lunge for the administration’s coming to the decision when they did.

“I appreciate that you made the decision you made when you made it to do the extension,” said Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, who chairs the committee. “We realize it’s a work in progress. It’s not simple. We’ve identified a ton of issues and there are probably a bunch we haven’t thought about. I think it inspires confidence to know that the administration says we’ve got a problem, and we need to fix it.”

Darcie Johnston is a long-time political operative for the Republican Party, and she runs the organization Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, which opposes almost all of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s health care initiatives.

In a news release, headlined ‘Shumlin in a Hole, Keeps Digging,’ Johnston wrote: “The Governor finally acted to protect Vermonters from his failed website and Vermont Health Connect.”

She vowed that her organization “will be working aggressively to make purchasing directly from insurance providers a permanent part of the law.” She also called on legislators to form a nonpartisan commission to investigate issues associated with Vermont Health Connect.

On Friday’s edition of WDEV’s Mark Johnson radio show, the state’s highest-ranking Republican official, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, was cool to the idea.

“I don’t think it would take very long to figure out what went wrong. There were some computer glitches,” Scott said. “If we have liquidated damages on the contract, I think we should … collect.”

Johnston finished off her announcement by calling on Shumlin to “immediately terminate” and replace Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson, Deputy Commissioner Lindsey Tucker, and Lunge. Larson and Tucker are overseeing the implementation of Vermont Health Connect.

Asked if the administration wished to comment on the news release, Shumlin’s Press Secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff Sue Allen said, “No.”

Andrew Stein

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  • Michael Colby

    How is it that Stein can continue to report for VTDigger after accepting a politically-appointed job with the State Auditor?

    • Andrew Stein is continuing to cover his beat, health care and energy. He is not reporting on the auditor’s office.

  • David Usher

    When does a ‘glitch’, the word of choice when reporting this story, become a serious problem? Sometime after it becomes an ‘issue’ I assume.

  • Michael Colby

    Really, Anne? The auditor’s office never looks at issues involving Stein’s beat, “health care and energy”?

    Besides, your explanation still ignores the fact that Stein is a political-appointee by an elected official who shares the same party and platform as the governor and the heads of the agencies that relate to his beat.

    This is way off the norm of acceptable journalistic ethics, which usually dictates that a journalist must stop being a journalist once they’ve taken a job with the government. Pretty simple stuff, really.

    • Stein hasn’t started working for Hoffer yet.

      • Jim Barrett

        Your answer this time is a little better but still doesn’t meet the smell test by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Michael Colby

    Again, really? As a very proud leader of an “independent” news organization, you’re going to allow this ethical/objective line to be blurred like this? I know Stein hasn’t started with Hoffer yet. That’s irrelevant. The fact that Stein has been HIRED by Hoffer and he continues to be a journalist is the issue. And it should be an issue with both you AND Hoffer.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      There are many ethical issues to be concerned about. In my opinion, this is not one of them.

      • Jim christiansen

        Such as current national and state politicians who directly and repeatedly lie to the citizenry about the cost and effects of the programs they advocate for?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Political musical chairs, cronyism. no-bid contracts – that’s what Vermont is all about.

    Here’s something to consider about journalistic ethics. At a recent Select Board meeting, a citizen spoke about a local issue. Then the highest ranking elected officer in the town made a threat against the citizen. The threat happened to be heard and recorded on an open mike. Not one member of the Press reported this. Journalistic ethics?

  • David Dempsey

    I think this story very informative because it made me think about how many problems are going to come up in the weeks ahead. I tend to doubt the exchange will be up and functioning properly by March 31st, but if it is, will the deductible amount be prorated for 3 months? The uncertainty of the future progress of the health exchange will probably lead to a lot more confusion while these details are worked out.
    I was an accountant and auditor for over 30 years and I worked on several audits involving state government. Being ethical and unbiased is equally important for auditors as it is for journalists. If Andrew Stein can’t be trusted to be ethical and unbiased reporting a story, I wouldn’t want him to be responsible for helping make sure our tax dollars are being spent appropriately.

  • Kathy Callaghan

    Andrew Stein can be trusted. Period. He’s one of the best health care reform reporters Vermont has had in a long time. This debate is silly.

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