Health Exchange Still Confusing

Apr 5, 2013

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that most Americans are uninformed about the federal health care changes that are coming, and about how health care exchanges are going to work. That situation appears to bear out in Vermont, too, given the types of questions VPR listeners posed to two leaders of Vermont's health care exchange on VPR's Vermont Edition on Friday:

  • "Isn't the exchange also available to employees of larger businesses?"
  • "How this will impact the Dr. Dinosaur program?"
  • "I'm a state employee, so what happens to insurance for me?"
  • "What is a basic plan? How is a ‘silver' different from a ‘bronze'?"
  • "I'm wondering if I have to buy into this?"

One listener pleaded, "I would hope these issues would be explained in yeoman's terms so that people like me could understand them."

The state is aware that people don't understand the health care exchange. "Part of the problem, not just with insurance but with health care reform generally, is that it's too complex," says Mark Larson, commissioner of Vermont Health Access. Larson says his team is planning an intensive campaign to get information out to Vermonters in the coming months about what the health care exchange is, how it works and who needs to participate in it.

Vermont's exchange, called "Vermont Health Connect," is slated to open for business on October 1, 2013. "There's no doubt in my mind" the state will make that deadline says Robin Lunge, the governor's director of health care reform. "I think it's important to remember that October 1 is when people can shop and compare and purchase. The coverage actually, for any plans on the exchange, starts January 1," says Lunge.

Come January, all individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be required to purchase health insurance through the exchange, or pay a penalty. Earlier this week, the state announced preliminary rates for health insurance packages. The prices for individual plans range from $360 a month for the most basic coverage to more than $600 a month for the most comprehensive plan.