Donít expand health costs
January 19, 2013
Vermont is ahead of most other states in helping its citizens gain access to relatively affordable health coverage through programs like VHAP and Catamount Health. As someone doing outreach to educate Vermonters about and help them enroll in public health care programs, I see their benefits every day
That’s why I am disturbed to hear that Gov. Peter Shumlin believes low- and middle-income Vermonters on Catamount Health should pay more for their health care when the health benefit exchange begins on Jan. 1, 2014. At that time, Vermont will have to comply with the new federal Affordable Care Act. The good news is that the benefit package mandated for insurance sold through the exchange will be more comprehensive than it is now under Catamount Health. However, out-of-pocket expenses for most people now on VHAP and Catamount will be rising dramatically unless the state subsidizes the difference.
Under the Affordable Care Act, people at lower income levels will be part of an expanded Medicaid, with no assets test or other qualifiers. For example, a single person can earn up to just over $15,000 a year, and a family of four can earn up to just over $31,000 a year and be eligible for Medicaid beginning in 2014, offering that income bracket an effective government-run health care program.
But VHAP and Catamount will be eliminated and most of those people will have to buy private insurance through the exchange. Out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, co-pays, etc., even with federal subsidies, will increase dramatically. An individual earning just over $17,000 a year who is currently on VHAP with a total of less than $600 a year in out-of-pocket expenses will now have almost $3,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. A couple earning just over $46,000 a year who is currently on state subsidized Catamount Health with a total of just over $7,000 a year in out-of-expenses expenses will now have over $17,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
The state of Vermont needs to fund the difference so that its citizens on the current health care programs are not enduring more costs. It will be a giant step backwards if the state does not plug these holes. And some people will lose confidence that the state can be successful in its move towards single-payer universal health care in 2017 if the situation deteriorates from 2014 through 2016.
So how should the state fund the health care programs? One idea is to institute a penny per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which would be an educational tool to inform people of the bad health effects of drinking too many of these drinks, and it would raise $25 million to $30 million dollars a year. Another idea is raise income tax on people making more than $250,000 a year. The governor has stood against both of these proposals. But there is a price to pay for doing nothing. More people will neglect their health issues because they can’t afford it, end up in emergency room situations, and increase health care costs for everyone as a result. I prefer the preventative approach of paying to give people better coverage.
For help getting on existing health care programs or more information on the health benefit exchange, go to www.catamounthealth.org or call our toll-free hotline 1-866-482-4723.
(Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund)