(Host) One of the key issues of the legislative session involves an expansion of the Catamount Health Care program.
A coalition of consumer and business groups is urging lawmakers to make it much easier for people to participate in the new program. But it’s likely some of these changes will require more state funds.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) By most accounts, the first 3 months of Catamount Health Care have been a success. 1,700 people have signed up for the program and another 3,300 have qualified for it.
Catamount offers a comprehensive benefit package with premiums that are based on a person’s income level.
Marcia Sweet, who co – owns an electrical business with her husband, wants lawmakers to eliminate a provision that requires individuals to go without health coverage for a year before they can sign up for Catamount.
And she thinks it wrong for Catamount not to cover pre-existing conditions during the first year of coverage – she’s concerned about this because her husband has a chronic illness:
(Sweet) "We need the coverage badly without care my husband’s health will decline further and be less able to work and more problems it just steam rolls downhill so to us the existing condition is crucial it literally is critical."
(Kinzel) Tom Pour is the CFO of Rutland Mental Health Services, an organization that has roughly 200 employees. He wants businesses to be able to purchase the lower cost Catamount coverage because he says private insurance is no longer affordable:
(Pour) "We were told we were going to have a 48 % increase in the cost of our health insurance the cost of a family plan which about 12,000 a year was going to go to 18,000 thousand dollars a year… we quickly realized that those numbers just wouldn’t work and in fact we would have to give every employee a pay cut."
(Kinzel) Middlebury Rep. Steve Maier is the chairman of the House Health Care committee. He says his panel is looking at these and other changes. Maier acknowledges that these changes will cost money but he hopes that sound policy choices, and not money, will influence the debate:
(Maier)"I sort of have to continue to push that ultimate decision aside for the moment or it would paralyze us I think our job becomes to figure out what we believe are the best policy choices to improve on Catamount expand on Catamount move in the directions we can I understand at the end of the game we’re going to have to make some choices."
(Kinzel) Maier says a critical component of Catamount is an effort to reduce chronic disease expenses – without these savings he says any system is doomed to fail:
(Maier) "And if we don’t that we’re all going to be suffering even more than we are now so I think that is the basic core reason why we got into the business of health care reform 2 years ago and it continues to be the top issue on our radar screen."
(Kinzel) Maier says his committee is also looking at a plan to allow young adult children to stay on their parent’s policies until they turn 26. He says this is important because one quarter of all uninsured people in Vermont are between the ages of 18 and 25.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.