Questions Raised About Newly Created Health Care Exchanges

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Vital Signs: Vermont Charts A New Course For Health Care

(Host) As the Governor’s health care bill moves through the Senate, new questions are being raised about the future availability of private health insurance policies in the state.

The debate centers around the role of newly created health care exchanges that go into effect in 2014.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The exchanges are mandated by federal law and they’re designed to give consumers information about the cost of health care policies sold in their state. The exchange would also provide federal subsidies for low and middle income people to purchase a policy.

Insurance companies would post prices for a common benefits plan so that consumers would be able to see an "apples to apples" comparison of the cost of a policy. 

Jeanne Keller is the co – director of the Vermont Employers Health Alliance – a group of several dozen businesses throughout the state.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, she said she’s concerned because she says the Shumlin Administration is trying to limit how many private health insurance companies will be allowed to offer their products in this new exchange:

(Keller) "We know that if the exchange is the only place you’re going to be able to buy coverage and the state has chosen one carrier because that one carrier was the only one that met their requirements and they selectively contracted with that carrier and there is no other choice it changes the dynamic of everything. It means that plan has to fit everybody.  It means that plan has to satisfy everybody."

(Kinzel) And Keller says this approach could undermine the state’s private health insurance market:

(Keller) "It’s this what appears to be a collapsing of the private market in anticipation of the single payer when we don’t know yet the single payer will work."

(Kinzel) Anya Rader Wallack is the governor’s special assistant for health care.  She says the best way to achieve significant administrative savings is by limiting the number of insurance companies that participate in the exchange.

(Wallack) "We’re creating the most viable exchange that we think we can create for Vermont because we do think that this will be a good thing that all people will find this to be a vast improvement over how they now purchase health insurance."

(Kinzel) And Wallack says it’s important to remember that the Governor’s ultimate goal is the creation of a publicly financed system.

(Wallack) "It’s not a secret that the Shumlin Administration is pursing a policy of moving toward a single payer so to the extent we thought reducing the number of insurers would have benefit in terms of administrative savings and simplification we wanted to have that option open".

(Kinzel) The bill could be on the Senate floor for debate as early as next week.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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