Health Care

Deadline to extend current health plans is Nov. 25

Don George, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, supported the decision to extend existing health care plans beyond Jan. 1. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger
Don George, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, appears with Gov. Peter Shumlin at news conference Nov. 1 announcing a delay in the state’s health care exchange mandate. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Vermont small businesses that want to extend their current health insurance plans through March 31 must notify their insurance providers by Nov. 25.

The state just informed Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care of this deadline, though it is not included in the commissioner of Financial Regulation’s order to allow the extension. The option to extend current coverage is one of three options the Shumlin administration is providing to businesses with 50 or fewer employees. These options are part of a contingency plan resulting from technical hang-ups plaguing the state’s new health insurance market, Vermont Health Connect.

Small businesses that want to provide coverage have two other options: buy plans directly from one of the two insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care — or make no decision and allow the insurer to choose a plan that most closely resembles the business’ current one. These businesses can also choose not to provide coverage and allow their employees to draw down subsidies, if they are income eligible.

Bill Little, vice president of MVP, said his company sent a letter to all of its small business subscribers telling them what plan most closely resembles their current one and how to go about extending plans or buying new ones. The company also fired off a “broker blast” to let insurance brokers know about the changes.

“They are the ones that typically do most of the transactions between the employer and the health plan,” Little said of the brokers, who he hopes can help facilitate this transition.

Andrea Cohen, director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said she expects businesses to respond very differently to the new options. Previously, the only option on the table was to buy plans from the website, but the payment mechanism still isn’t working.

“We’ve heard from businesses (that) they will do better on the exchange, and we’ve heard that some businesses are not going to do better on the exchange,” she said. “Those latter folks will likely wait and extend their plans.”

Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, is recommending to businesses that they buy Vermont Health Connect plans directly from insurers to ensure that they have coverage through the end of 2014. If businesses extend their current plans, they would be subject to new deadlines and create a risk of losing coverage.

“Our focus is to make sure that no one has a lapse in coverage for Jan. 1,” she said. “We are hoping the Vermont Health Connect system is working so that people can enroll in the way it was envisioned.”

If the site is not working by March, Cohen said, her organization does not support a further extension of current plans. She foresees legislators next session pushing to extend current plans for the duration of 2014, and she thinks it’s a bad idea.

With the option of buying plans directly from insurers, Cohen said, “there is no need” to extend plans. She said that for the market to work, it needs a large risk pool to even out costs.

“The exchange will increase transparency and level the playing field between businesses,” she said. ”That is fair and equitable for employers and employees. The exchanges offer more transparency about the cost of coverage to everyone. This has been a major failing of the status quo and needs to be cured in order to get true system reform.”

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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 When Andrew isn’t writing stories, he can likely be found playing Boggle with his wife, fly fishing or brewing beer.

Email: [email protected]

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  • sandra bettis

    interesting look that mr scott is giving mr shumlin….

  • Jim Christiansen

    Will the current plans be extended at current rates or is the Governor going to let the insurance companies charge what they wish without review from the GMCB?

    Andrew, does the Governor or his incompetent administrator Mr. Larson have any idea the havoc this yo-yo ride of theirs is causing?

  • Wayne Andrews

    More chaos ensues!

  • Stan Hopson

    Andrew, does the Governor or his incompetent administrator Mr. Larson have any idea the havoc this yo-yo ride of theirs is causing?

    These are the same people that promoted an inoperable website hoisted on 100,000 Vermonters without doing the bare minimum of due-diligence. This is what we get with super majority one party rule, nothing in the way of substantial checks and balances, usually provided by a robust minority party or an aggressive press. We all DESERVE this debacle, we’ve elected and trusted these people OVERWHELMINGLY. We bought this lock, stock and barrel.

    Sure there’s lots of Bob Stannards out there talking about how negative and compassionless those against this health care mess are, I’d say to Bob “where were you protecting Vermonters from this expensive and compromised insurance scheme? Where is my democrat legislator who voted for this without question, any question, ever? Why haven’t people been FIRED?

    If Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple rolled out a program as fatally flawed as VHC, their shareholders and customers would be calling for his resignation, and guess what, he’d probably step down after being shamed. But, in Vermont we have no shame, just rubber stamps.

    We’re watching this administration fly their airplane into the side of a mountain. It didn’t have to happen this way…..

  • Craig Powers

    Hours and hours of wasted time and money for both public and private parties involved in this fiasco. Bold face lies from the administration, misleading the public for months. Excuses from the administration’s political supporters that this is OK and acceptable all in the name of reform. A Governor who publicly disparages political opponents with disrespectful labels.

    Vote these people out of office. They have failed.

  • Hilary Cooke

    And Andrea Cohen at VBSR continues to recite the talking points…. reminds me of Nero with Rome burning.
    I hope health care reform in Vermont can survive what are clearly examples of governmental malpractice. This winter the governor and legislature must come up with a way to fund this. Ideology doesn’t pay the bills, citizens do.
    A final comment: Friends don’t let friends run the government. At least the Peter Principle is alive and well in Vermont.

  • The state of the Exchange website and the contingency options all present problems for employers that neither the administration nor, it appears, the insurers fully appreciate. In preparation for purchasing group sponsored coverage on the exchange an overwhelming majority of employers were unable to find a plan design that matched what they offer today. Suggesting that a plan with equal actuarial value is a plan that is equal in value to an employee is just not true. Plans with equal actuarial value can have very different design elements and depending upon an individual’s health scenario can mean a dramatically different financial outcome. This concern is mitigated to a degree given the employee choice that exists if an employer registers on the exchange and then employees enroll on the exchange platform. Employers preparing for this direction spent countless hours determining what would be a fair employer contribution in the exchange environment and an equal amount of time trying to explain the new concept to their employees. Of course now we know that use of the exchange is not a practical option if the employer wants to make sure employees have coverage 1-1-14. The deadline to enroll is November 30th; the deadline to communicate your intentions to the insurers is November 25th. Today is November 13th and we know an employer group can’t completely enroll their employees through the website. No employer can take the risk of banking on the website being fixed in time for all employees to enroll by November 30th. They have to look at the options- both of which present problems.
    The idea of choosing a plan with similar actuarial value and enrolling direct with the insurer forces a dramatic change in the employer design that creates potential employee issues and necessitates a great deal of communication and handholding by the employer. Again, if they were able to use the exchange the employee choice element would mitigate this issue. The administration and the insurers appear to be underestimating the sensitivity and burden of this issue for employers. Changing employee’s health benefits is not a simple task for an employer- It is hard enough to explain a simple tweak to copays and deductibles let alone the types of design component changes for most employers that come with a change to one of the exchange plans. It’s virtually impossible for an employer to look an employee in the eye and tell them that the plan they have chosen and related employer contribution will keep the employee “whole”. Remember employees/ employers were told with the passage of the ACA that you could keep your plan if you like it- understand that there is no truth to that in Vermont for small employers.
    The third option to extend your existing plan 3 months creates a host of additional issues that again seem to be dismissed by the architects of these contingency options. Don’t get me wrong, the idea allowing extension of existing plans is the right thing to do, however if there were a true understanding of what employers are dealing with in providing benefits to employees the extension should be allowed 12 months to 1-1-15. Wrap you head around the common small group benefit scenario where the employer provides an HDHP plan with an HSA. The myriad of issues that employers and employees need to understand regarding starting the year in an HSA compatible design with deductibles resetting on January 1st and then starting a new plan 4-1-14 are overwhelming. Added to the new decision making process for employees choosing on the exchange is the factoring in of any deductible an employee may have incurred in the 1st 3 months of the new year. HSA regulations must be understood- how much can the employee and employer put in an HSA in the first 3 months? And how is that impacted by the plan decision made on April 1? The considerations for what plan to choose changes entirely for employees on 1-1-15. Yes all these questions can be answered but most of the knowledge to answer these questions exists with the benefit brokers/ advisors who have been largely ignored in the contingency planning process.
    The most important point here is that employers are trying to run their business, the inoperability of the exchange, the design of the contingency options and the timeframes for employer/employee decisions are requiring an enormous amount of time and resources to figure out what to do and are robbing them of time they need to spend on issues more critical to their business. The solution is simple. Allow the current plan extension for 1 year.

    • Eric Taylor

      Without calling anyone names, without shrill ideological rhetoric, you’ve captured the frustration faced by individuals and businesses alike. I hope there are people listening (watching) who will see these comments from you.

    • David Black

      Your expression of the 1st amendment is impressive to say the leastb but you say too much and mean too little. You need to condense your thoughts and give others a chance to comment.

  • Annette Smith

    You’ve got to be kidding! What is the reason for the 2 week notice and this new deadline? This is getting crazier, not simpler.

  • Is the sad picture accompanying this article a metaphor for the overall performance of the Shumlin administration ……..

    or just a simple example of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words in describing the state of healthcare reform in Vermont?

  • Dan Boardman

    Bob Crews has hit the nail on the head in his response above. Well thought through, pragmatic and factual…..unlike what we’ve seen from the architects of the exchange.

  • Stan Hopson

    Have Bob Crews run this debacle, at least we’d have someone competent involved.

  • David Black

    Gov. Shumlin’s look, reminds me of the time “Big Bird” got caught eating too many poppy seeds.