Health Care

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.”

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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.”

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Andrew Stein

About Andrew

Andrew Stein is the energy and health care reporter for VTDigger. He is a 2012 fellow at the First Amendment Institute and previously worked as a reporter and assistant online editor at the Addison County Independent, where he helped the publication win top state and New England awards for its website. Andrew is a former China Fulbright Research Fellow and a graduate of Kenyon College. As a Fulbright fellow, he researched the junction of Chinese economic, agricultural and environmental policymaking through an analysis of China’s modern tea industry. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has been awarded research grants from Middlebury College and the Freeman Foundation to investigate Chinese environmental policies. A member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, his work has also appeared in publications such as the Math Association of America’s quarterly journal Math Horizons and Grist.org. When Andrew isn’t writing stories, he can likely be found playing Boggle with his wife, fly fishing or brewing beer.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewcstein

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