Vermont Health Connect: A glass half full
There is an old saying that you can look at a glass as half empty or half full. This can be said of Vermont Health Connect (VHC). The success of VHC has not been as bad as opponents say, nor has it been as rosy as some predicted. Now that open enrollment for 2014 has ended, it is a good time to take stock of how VHC has helped Vermonters and examine what can be improved.
Our organization is one of 31 navigator organizations across Vermont funded to help Vermonters learn about and enroll in coverage through VHC. Our goal is to help Vermonters get health care, and that is the lens through which I look at VHC. For me, the glass is half full.
The Department of Vermont Health Access estimates that navigators reached Vermonters more than 1.5 million times through their outreach efforts, which include direct mailings, tabling at venues like libraries, farmers markets and fairs, informational presentations, and one-on-one assistance.
The success of these outreach efforts is unprecedented and means many Vermonters were reached more than one time to learn about their eligibility for coverage through VHC. Preliminary numbers show that approximately 126,000 Vermonters are enrolled in coverage through VHC, including those enrolled through their small employer, Vermonters who transitioned from VHAP and Catamount Health, and Vermonters who enrolled directly in Medicaid and private plans.
While the glass is more than full in terms of outreach, we also acknowledge that many Vermonters faced a number of challenges enrolling, and some of those challenges are ongoing. Early on, the online application process and web portal did not work smoothly. At peak times, wait times for the call center were far too long.
The creation of VHC was an enormously complicated undertaking, and it required unprecedented cooperation and effort by both the public and private sectors and advocates. Many worked tirelessly to improve VHC and make it work smoothly for all Vermonters. The state has worked feverishly to remedy and correct ongoing issues with applications and enrollment.
Without the flexibility of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP, the two insurance companies offering plans on VHC, VHC would not be operating as smoothly as it does now. The Office of the Health Care Advocate is helping hundreds of Vermonters who have run into problems.
Unfortunately, some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act cause problems with VHC that need to be remedied. Coverage on VHC remains unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Vermonters who are also coping with the high cost of daily living expenses such as food, gas, and heating.
The open enrollment period is a serious deterrent to access to health coverage. Except for those who are eligible for Medicaid and those who have a qualifying event, enrollment for coverage in 2014 is now over. Vermonters who lose coverage because they could not pay their premiums will not be able to get insurance until 2015. The open enrollment period for coverage in 2015 will be only three months long.
Vermont Health Connect has been an historic undertaking. It has provided affordable health coverage to thousands of Vermonters. But it is does not provide universal access to affordable coverage — it is only the foundation from which we can move forward to build a truly affordable universal health care system for all Vermonters.
Donna Sutton Fay is policy director for the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund.