House Health Care Committee to get update
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | August 06,2013
MONTPELIER — In a rare off-session meeting of a full standing committee, the House Health Care Committee will convene this week in Winooski for an update on a host of high-level reforms being instituted by the Shumlin administration this summer and fall.
Rep. Mike Fisher, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said the scope of changes being undertaken in the health care arena this year means that “this is not at all like other off-sessions for the Legislature.”
“We have a lot of moving pieces, between setting up the exchange and the work that’s being done on payment reform,” Fisher said Monday. “And we in the House Health Care Committee felt that it was important for, and asked for permission to, meet during the interim.”
Wednesday’s meeting is purely informational; no votes are scheduled, and Fisher said the panel won’t seek to influence the administration’s execution of plans approved by the Legislature earlier this year.
“It is more to keep up to speed on the successes and challenges of launching the exchange, and being well-educated and up to date come January when we are back in session,” said Fisher, of Lincoln. “There has been a tremendous amount of work and collaboration in terms of building that system … and I think we need to be updated on all the work that’s happened since we left Montpelier.”
The exchange, a new online insurance marketplace set to launch Oct. 1, will change the way about 100,000 Vermonters purchase health coverage. Individuals and businesses with 50 or fewer employees will be required to purchase their insurance on the exchange, where they’ll be able to pick from among 18 plans with varying deductibles, premiums and out-of-pocket limits.
In the weeks since the Green Mountain Care Board and Department of Vermont Health Access finalized rates and approved insurance products that will be sold in the exchange, Fisher said, he’s heard some concerns about cost.
“I think the interesting thing is that many Vermonters look at those rates and say, ‘Wow, those are expensive,’” Fisher said.
He said the rates are comparable to what Vermonters would have been paying for similar coverage last year.
“In fact the annual increase is certainly much lower than what we’ve seen in years past,” Fisher said.
The fact that the exchange has prompted a public discussion about the cost of health care, he said, “is a good thing.”
“On no other year has someone come up to me and wanted to talk about how expensive the new rates are,” Fisher said. “There’s a new kind of attention being paid, a new level of scrutiny being paid to how much health care costs.”
With less than 60 days before the exchange is set to open, Fisher said he has some concerns about whether the federal government will be able to fulfill some of the information technology obligations to which it has committed. A report earlier this summer by the Government Accountability Office cast doubt on the federal government’s ability to have those IT systems up and running by October; state officials say Vermont’s exchange will be operational regardless.
Fisher said he also wants to make sure the transition to the exchange is done without any lapses in coverage for Vermonters and that the public outreach campaign will deliver information about the exchange to any resident who needs it.
Fisher’s 11-person committee is also scheduled to receive an update on the Vermont Health CO-OP, a government-subsidized health insurance startup whose bid to sell premiums in the state was dashed earlier this summer by state regulators. The would-be insurer is trying to persuade Commissioner of Financial Regulation Susan Donegan to consider a revised application.
Also on the agenda is a meeting with Al Gobeille, the newly sworn-in chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, who will talk with the committee about his five-person panel’s work on payment reform.
Committee members will be paid for their day of work and reimbursed for mileage to travel there, according to Fisher, who said the investment is a necessary one.
“It’s a small expense to make sure that Vermonters have representatives at the table keeping an eye on this,” Fisher said.