Lawmakers have gotten their first look at the computer software that will be used to implement Vermont’s Health Care Exchange later this year. Creators of the program are modeling it after popular travel websites.
"I have for you today a live demonstration of the One Gate product which is the software that’s going to be used to implement the Vermont Exchange."
That’s Matthew Freeman of the Exeter Group, the organization that’s designing Vermont’s website, conducting a demonstration for members of the Senate.
Beginning in 2014, all companies with fewer than 50 employees and all individuals will be required to purchase their health coverage on the Exchange.
The program has been specifically designed to resemble commercial websites that many consumers use on a regular basis. The first step is entering your password.
"These are typical things you would have seen on banking websites and other websites that you’re probably familiar with," said Freeman. "We’ll go with father’s middle name which is John."
Under the Affordable Care Act, tax credits are available to help subsidize the cost of coverage. Individuals with incomes under roughly $46,000 would be eligible for a tax credit, as well as couples with a joint income of less than $60,000. For a family of four, the income cap is roughly $92,000.
Freeman enters a hypothetical income and up pops the available tax credit.
"We’ve calculated a tax credit and we’ll see later on when they’ve selected a plan how this tax credit is applied to the monthly premium to reduce the cost."
And just as consumers can view various options on a travel website, this program outlines coverage possibilities that people can choose from based on different levels of deductibles and co-payments. The options are listed as bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
"The bronze is where you pay less each month but if you use the services, you go to the doctor or emergency room it might cost you a little more and platinum would be on the other end of scale."
Claire Ayer is the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare committee. She generally likes what she sees.
"I think it’s a great start but there’s a lot of work that’s going to happen with our consultants and by people in Vermont mostly the agency people," said Ayer. "They’re going to spend a long time fine tuning those questions and test driving it and test driving it."
Ayer says consumers who are not computer savvy or who have problems on the website will always have a phone number that they can call for assistance.
A number of senators were disappointed to learn that same sex married couples in Vermont will have to buy their coverage as individuals and not as a couple. Ayer says the state has no choice in this decision.
"These are federal income taxes so we have to go by federal law and that does not recognize same sex couples."
The state is also planning to launch a major public information campaign in the coming months that will outline the operation of the Exchange.