VHAP changes concern advocates for low-income people

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(Host) The Douglas administration is making some changes to its Medicaid reform plan that goes into effect on January 1. Critics of the proposal argue that thousands of low income Vermonters will lose their health care coverage when the new rules go into place.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The changes represent a major shift in the way that many low income working Vermonters, who participate in the state program, will pay for health coverage. Currently people who are enrolled in the Vermont Health Access Program, pay co-payments and deductibles when they receive medical care.

Under the new program, which was approved by the Legislature last winter, participants will pay a monthly premium based on the person’s income. For instance, a person with an annual income of $8,000 will have to pay a monthly premium of $35, and an individual with an income of $14,000 will be required to pay a monthly premium of $65. If a person doesn’t pay their premium on time, they’ll have to wait until the next month to regain their coverage.

At the urging of a legislative health care oversight committee, Welfare Commissioner John Hall did agree on Tuesday to implement a four-month phase-in of the program that will allow participants who fail to pay their premiums on time a chance to immediately regain coverage when they do pay the bill:

(Hall) “So that people have a chance to get used to being in the prospective premium system for a few months before they come face to face with the sterner consequences of losing coverage because their premiums are not paid or come in late.”

(Kinzel) Critics of the program say the changes don’t go far enough to protect individuals from losing their health care coverage. Karen LaFayette, who represents the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, predicts that 40% of all the people currently enrolled in the program will lose their coverage in the coming months:

(LaFayette) “So in the end when the system goes into place it will just delay what we believe will be the outcome that up to 14,000 Vermonters who get VHAP and have to pay a premium based system will come off the system because they can’t pay their premiums and meet them.”

(Kinzel) The state will send out the first bills for coverage in the VHAP program in the beginning of December. Those bills will pay for coverage during the month of January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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