Health Care

VHC open enrollment off to a smooth start

The open enrollment period for people to purchase health insurance from the Vermont Health Connect exchange started quietly over the weekend.

Clear sunny weather and the start of rifle deer-hunting season were probably on the minds of many when the Web portal launched at 5 a.m. Saturday, but by late morning, the site had seen some traffic and was operating without issues, according to officials.

The exchange processed 32 new coverage applications by 11:30 a.m., officials reported. By the close of business Monday, that number climbed to 306.

“We have not had any problems reported today,” said Lawrence Miller, chief of Health Care Reform, on Sunday.

The application questions and user interface, which tripped up thousands of applicants last year, are much improved, according to state officials, and should create fewer problems going forward.

For existing customers who do not want to purchase a different health plan, and do not need to make changes to their coverage, renewals will be processed by mid-December.

Existing customers who want to switch plans or must report changes need to download a form online and mail it in, or call the customer service call center.

Vermont Health Connect’s call center is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday at 855-899-9600 (toll-free).

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The change form was mailed to all existing customers prior to the start of open enrollment, officials said.

The exchange processed 1,515 renewals as of Monday evening. Those are a mix of people who submitted changes early and those being automatically reenrolled in their current plans.

An online process for reporting and making changes is expected to be available a few months after open enrollment, but was not rushed onto the site to avoid creating unanticipated problems. It’s expected to be an option sometime in 2015, officials said.

Vermont Health Connect is only anticipating 3,000 to 8,000 new customers to purchase coverage during the three-month open enrollment period that runs until Feb. 15.

The deadline is Dec. 15 for coverage that starts on Jan. 1, 2015. Vermonters who sign up by Jan. 15 will have a start date of Feb. 1, and those who sign up by the Feb. 15 close of open enrollment will have a start date of March 1.

In its first year, 32,000 people purchased commercial insurance through the exchange, or 71 percent of the estimated 45,000 eligible to do so.

The state was unable to resolve several thousand change requests from 2014 prior to open enrollment. The exchange was also unable to verify several thousand customers’ income, identity and citizenship status using federal data.

That looms as a shadow over the exchange’s improved operations, because a portion of those customers are receiving the incorrect subsidy amounts as a result. That group — the size of which is unknown, but could be in the thousands — will either need to pay back a portion of subsidies or receive additional money when subsidy amounts are reconciled at tax time in April.

Many small businesses required to purchase exchange coverage for their employees will do so during open enrollment, as well.

That process will continue directly through the two participating insurers, and may still be the case in 2016, as state officials have said they are seeking continued permission for the direct enrollment option.

There were 34,000 people covered by exchange products purchased by their employers in 2014.

Another 100,000 Vermonters qualified for Medicaid through the exchange, many as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the program’s income eligibility threshold.

The Affordable Care Act’s impact on Vermont’s uninsured population is a hotly debated topic and information about the uninsured will be available before the end of the second open enrollment period for the exchange.

The Department of Financial Regulation household insurance survey gives Vermont the best information about how many residents have health insurance, according to officials.

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The survey was last conducted in 2012, prior to the exchange coming online. It found that 6.8 percent of the state’s population, or 42,760 people, did not have health insurance.

It’s being conducted again this year, and is expected to be completed at the end of the month. The results will be available in early 2015, according to officials.

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Morgan True

About Morgan

Morgan True is VTDigger's Burlington bureau chief covering the city and Chittenden County. A Seattle native, he graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism before working for several publications in Massachusetts. He came to VTDigger in December 2013 from The Brockton Daily Enterprise, where he covered government, schools and hospitals in a city of about 100,000 people. Before joining The Enterprise, he worked for The Associated Press in Concord, N.H., where he served as a relief reporter in the Statehouse. He previously worked for The Quincy (Mass.) Patriot Ledger and as an intern at the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.

Email: [email protected]

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