By Bob Kinzel
On October 1, Vermont’s new health care Exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect, is scheduled to be up and operating.
It’s the place where all individuals, and businesses with fewer than 50 employees, will go to purchase health insurance starting in January.
While the basic benefit package is the same for all policies sold on the exchange, consumers can choose from a variety of cost sharing options including the size of the policy’s deductible and various co payment plans.
Premiums are tied directly to the options. Higher deductible plans have considerably smaller premiums than the lower deductible plans.
Mark Larson is the commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. He says a massive public education and outreach campaign has begun.
The proposal includes a multi faceted media plan, a call center, a user friendly website, and personnel who will work directly with businesses. The campaign will be financed with federal grants from the Affordable Care Act.
“We have a significant budget for education and outreach this year,” said Larson. “Through a variety of different strategies we’ll spend over $8 million this year in efforts to provide information to Vermonters about Vermont Health Connect and the plans that will be available.”
The state is also partnering with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce to hold information sessions for the business community.
Betsy Bishop is the president of the Chamber. She says many businesses still have a lot of questions about how the Exchange will work.
“So while businesses walk away from these meetings with a little bit more information they still haven’t in their heads made a decision but they’re starting to come closer and closer to that.”
Bishop also says a number of businesses are trying to sort through the most cost effective way to offer insurance to their employees.
“You’re talking about a major decision making process and there are a lot of variables in this one,” said Bishop. “And whether or not the employer or the individual gets health insurance is a major discussion point for a business.”
With four months to go, Commissioner Larson is optimistic that the Exchange will be ready on October 1.
“I remain very confident today that we will meet that deadline and that Vermonters will have a positive experience when they use the Exchange,” said Larson. “We have work left to do but we continue to be on schedule to complete that work.”
Vermont is one of 16 states that have chosen to set up their own health care exchange. The federal government will create exchanges in the other 34 states.