Health Care

Shumlin stays course on health care exchange despite Obama shift

Gov. Peter Shumlin address participants in a Vermont Health Connect forum held at Capitol Plaza  Hotel in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger
Gov. Peter Shumlin addresses participants in a Vermont Health Connect forum held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

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.”

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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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  • Dave Bellini

    This administration has kept Vermonters in the dark about how dysfunctional the exchange is. I believe they had full knowledge, early on, that the exchange website would fail. Surely the employees working on the website communicated to their chain of command, that the site was not ready.
    And the Governor is busy, publicly insulting AOT employees for doing their jobs.

    • Chris Lewis

      This Vermont healthcare disaster is precisely what happens when one lets their ego get in the way of decision making.

      Tar and feathers anyone?

  • Jim Barrett

    We know Obama doesn’t have the legal right to change anything without congressional approval but who cares!

  • Coleman Dunnar

    With the uncertainties at the Federal level Gov. Quick Draw still wants to charge ahead. November 2014 can’t come soon enough.

  • Joanne Ferris Forkey

    Governor Shumlin should get with the program and not run amuck just to be different. The deviation from Obama care sets the stage for his single payer agenda, what’s next state dictatorship. VHC is not ready, still crashes when signing up and people are panicked. Give us a break already and extend the change for a year.

  • Kelly Cummings

    Well I say….Kudos to Gov. Shumlin for not running scared!

    You know change is messy but it doesn’t mean it is not necessary. We must remember that good quality healthcare is an absolute necessity in this world we live in and every human being deserves to be able to access it.

    We should hold steady and work our way through this transition. Don’t be swayed by the comments made by those who have opposed “real healthcare for all” from the very beginning. Of course they are going to try and take advantage of any rough spot they can….that’s what they do!

    This is when we decide what we are made of. And I believe Vermonters are made of pretty tough stuff! We must and can move forward. We can do this!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of trying to find ways to destroy our chance of getting what so many need, we could all come together and work to accomplish it! Of course….I guess that is telling in and of itself.

    When the going gets tough….well, the tough get going! So let’s get going!

    Carry on Gov. Shumlin! Carry on!

    • walter carpenter

      “When the going gets tough…well, the tough get going. So let’s get going.!”

      Right on, Kelly, let’s get going…right on in 2017 when we can catch up to the rest of the democratic world…when we can make health a right for all Vermonters. I too applaud the governor for staying the course, despite the snafus made by others. Even though, I am not a huge fan of the ACA, it does contain some necessary elements, like severeing employment from health care for one, which are badly needed. Stay the course.

  • J. Scott Cameron

    Unlike the President, Governor Shumlin never promised us that we could keep our present health care. Quite the contrary, he has been clear from the get-go that he will not permit the exercise of individual choice to rear it’s ugly head when it comes to health care. Shummy knows what’s best for us. Vermont’s Motto – “Unity and Freedom” – is not something he respects. “Unity”, i.e., my way or the highway, is his mantra. Of course, he will stick with his current health care plan for the present.

  • Al Walskey

    As a Veteran I have Gov. Schumlin’s back on making health care a right because, like a soldier, he has not cut and run from the responsibility of state government to save the lives of the 60 or more Vermonters who die each year because they lack health care.

    It’s an inescapable, shameful fact that during 13 years of war far more Vermonters have died due to the lack health care than soldiers that have been killed by terrorists.

    Employer provided tax payer subsidized health care has been a disaster because if you contract a serious illness you lose you job along with your health care leading to bankruptcy before you become poor enough qualify for taxpayer subsidized health care that is all to often too late to save your life.

    Another injustice shouldered when an employer doesn’t provide health insurance is that the employee subsidizes employers who do provide health insurance when he/she buys its products and services. There’s nothing democratic about this lopsided system of providing access to health care for the lucky chosen and little or nothing for the rest.

    The only sure thing is that the current, inadequate method for delivering health care is U-N-S-U-S-T-A-I-N-A-B-L-E.

  • Ann Raynolds

    Thank you Al. I never thought of this fight for universal health care in the terms of an military officer’s responsibility to all the soldiers under his command. Right on with this analogy!

  • Chris Lewis

    except, of course the part where you get paid to work.