Catamount enrollment still low

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(Host)  It’s been a little more than a year since Catamount Health began taking applications from uninsured Vermonters. And fewer than 6,500 of the state’s 65,000 uninsured people have enrolled in the state-sponsored insurance program.

Peter Sterling directs the nonprofit Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Fund. He says those numbers are deceiving because many people who apply for Catamount discover they’re eligible for other state and Medicaid programs.

Sterling says the main thing he hears from people who *don’t enroll is that the premiums are too high.

(Sterling) Part of my job is to go to places where Vermonters are being laid off and let Vermonters know who are being laid off they’re now going to be eligible for these programs people know they’re going. To ask someone who’s going to be living on their unemployment check of a couple hundred dollars a week, to pay a hundred, hundred fifty dollars for health care, it’s just too much.

(Host) Doug Racine chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. He says that, even without the current recession, the cost of health care is rising much faster than state revenues or people’s incomes.

Senate President Peter Shumlin has said Catamount isn’t financially sustainable in the current economy without more federal help. Racine is optimistic that more support will come.

(Shumlin) And I hope that the federal government with the new administration will recognize some of the difficulties they’ve placed on Vermont. For example they told us we couldn’t use our Medicaid money and their match for Catamount for subsidies for people between 200 and 300 percent of poverty. We are hoping that will change.

(Host) Catamount isn’t on the list of recommended budget cuts released this week, but more cuts are coming. Racine says leaving Vermonters uninsured will cost the state more than paying to fund Catamount.

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