Vermont Health Connect is Better for Vermont than the Federal Exchange

October 03, 2014

Caledonian Record

Vermont Health Connect (VHC) made headlines when the state announced that it was taking down the web portal until further notice. While the policy reasons for taking this action were sound, this certainly was unwelcome news.

Opponents of health care reform have used this decision to renew their call for Vermont to drop VHC altogether and join the federal health insurance exchange. This is a misguided reaction and one that would greatly impact consumer protections and low and middle-income Vermonters ability to get affordable health care.

Despite the many problems VHC has had, joining the federal exchange would be far worse for Vermonters. Under a federal exchange, insurance would cost more and we would weaken our ability to develop a consumer protection system that works for Vermonters. We would receive less federal money for providing in-person assistance to Vermonters. These are among the reasons why consumer advocates urged the Vermont Legislature to develop its own exchange and not use the federal exchange.

It has been well documented that coverage through VHC isn't affordable to tens of thousands of working Vermonters. This is why Vermont became one of only two states in the nation to give additional subsidies on top of what the federal government provides to enrollees in VHC. Moving to the federal exchange means Vermont will not be able to continue this and Vermonters will pay more. For example, individual with annual income of about $28,000 will pay about $380 more a year for premiums and a couple with income of $39,000 will pay almost $500 more in premiums. In addition, Vermont would likely lose most, if not all, of its ability to work out state specific solutions to issues like mandated deadlines for submitting information and systemic issues like Medicaid renewal problems. We would no longer be able to have our own system for resolving problems and conducting appeals.

Vermont's small size gives us a distinct advantage in setting up an exchange that works for all of us. Our small size allows Vermont consumers to benefit from VHC in ways that are not readily apparent, such as allowing consumers and advocates to provide input to the state on VHC from its earliest stages through opportunities like stakeholder groups on plan design, the development and wording of notices, the Medicaid and Exchange Advisory Board, and workgroups on a number of issues including improving the paper and online applications and the usability of the VHC web site.

Remember the old adage "be careful what you ask for." Dropping VHC and joining the federal exchange would create more problems for Vermonters than it solves and it would strip us of our ability to develop the health care system that best meets Vermonters' needs. Even with its well documented flaws, VHC is a system developed in Vermont by Vermonters which provides better access to care while saving Vermonters millions of dollars and making it possible for us all to live healthier lives.

Donna Sutton Fay is the Policy Director for the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund.