Shumlin: Expand Catamount Health eligibility

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Senate president Peter Shumlin says he wants to see lawmakers expand the state’s health care program, known as Catamount Health, to allow more Vermonters to join the program.

Shumlin says he’ll ask several key Senate committees to propose ways to expand eligibility, and to suggest some creative plans to pay for the expansion.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Beginning next week, uninsured Vermonters who have signed up for Catamount Health will begin receiving coverage under this new program.

Catamount is designed to provide coverage in a number of ways and individuals pay a monthly premium based on their income.

In order to qualify for Catamount, a person must be without health insurance coverage for at least 12 months. There are some exceptions to this waiting period – for instance if an individual no longer has coverage because they lost their job or because of a divorce.  

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Senate President Peter Shumin says he wants to make Catamount coverage available to a wider group of Vermonters:

(Shumlin)"We want to continue to work on this problem. The governor’s feeling about health care is ‘Catamount is going to take care of the uninsured, we’ve passed Catamount and we’re all done’.  My feeling about Catamount is, it’s going to take care of the uninsured over time and we have just begun. And the bottom line is that this Legislature has got to go back and find a way to pass a bill that will allow many Vermonters to have the benefits of the Catamount health care plan – not just the uninsured."

Opponents of efforts to substantially expand Catamount argue that it will lead to a government run health care system. Shumlin says that’s not the case:

(Shumlin) "The truth of the matter is that Catamount is being bid out to private insurers – right now it’s MVP and Blue Cross Blue Shield that are offering that product to the uninsured. So the fear that government is somehow going to run health care is just a scare tactic to distract us from the problem."

Shumlin says he’s not sure how to pay for an expansion of Catamount Health but he says he’s confident that question will be answered by the end of the year:

(Shumlin) "We’ll see where we go that’s the exciting thing about sessions but we’ll have a plan by the time the Legislature comes together and we’ll try to pass it."

The state of Vermont has just launched a public outreach program to boost participation in Catamount Health and the state’s other health care programs.  Officials are hoping that an additional 20 thousand Vermonters will sign up for these programs by 2010.  This figure represents roughly one third of all uninsured people in the state.

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

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