VHAP changes may have negative impact group warns

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(Host) A Washington-based research group warns that thousands of Vermonters could lose health care coverage because of changes in the state’s public health insurance plan.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The new rule represents a major shift in the way many low income working Vermonters get health insurance. Instead of paying co-payments and deductibles, they now will have to pay a premium based on their income.

For example, a person with an annual income of $14,000 will have to pay a monthly premium of $65.

(Ku) “We estimated that 10,000 low income adults will drop their health insurance coverage.”

(Dillon) Leighton Ku is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington.

Ku says his projection that 10,000 Vermonters – or just under half of those enrolled in the state program – will drop the coverage is based on what happened in other states when premiums were charged for public health insurance.

(Ku) “Vermont justified raising the premiums in part by saying there were other co-payments that people have for their health insurance. And so it was saying we’re going to reduce co-payments but increase the premiums. On the other hand, what we know from experience in other places that have tried this is that when you raise the premiums, people drop off the program entirely.”

(Dillon) The Douglas administration and the Legislature made the change in part to control the skyrocketing cost of state health programs.

Representative Thomas Koch chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee. The Republican from Barre says some people will drop coverage, but he questions the dire predictions made by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

(Koch) “I’ve said for a long time that I think we should try to make Medicaid look as much like private insurance as possible. And the rest of the world pays premiums and I think that paying premiums in the Medicaid system is a wise policy choice and helps people participate in an income sensitive way toward their own health care.”

(Dillon) The Douglas administration will phase in the premium system so people who fail to pay on time can regain coverage as soon as they pay their bills.

An Administration official said premium bills went out at the beginning of December and that payments are ahead of projections.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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