Vermont Would Allow ‘Bronze Plan’ to Encourage Health

February 9, 2012

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders said this week they wanted to make it possible for more of the state’s small businesses to offer lower premium health insurance plans sometimes known as “bronze plans” until the state can implement its single payer health care system.

Speaking Monday in Montpelier, Shumlin and leaders from the House and Senate, all Democrats, said they would also allow businesses with more than 50 employees to remain outside the federally-mandated health care exchange until 2016.

“We feel strongly that the exchange is not the answer to all Vermont’s health care problems,” Shumlin said at a news conference in the Montpelier Statehouse. “We feel that as we design an exchange it should have maximum flexibility and allow shoppers to make choices for insurance until we implement our plan in Vermont.”

As part of the federal health care reform law known as the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress two years ago, on Jan 1, 2014 states must have set up health care exchanges where businesses and individuals can buy health insurance. Under federal law, in 2016 the health care exchanges will carry the 100 employee limit.

Last year Vermont passed legislation outlining a plan to comply with that requirement. This year, a Vermont House committee has been considering the first in what’s expected to be a series of bills to implement that broad plan.

As originally introduced, the Vermont bill would have set the small business limit at 100 employees and it would have forbid the bronze plans. Monday’s announcement meant the state would use the 50-employee number.

“The federal government requires businesses of 100 or less to be in exchanges by 2016. We’re now saying that they can now stay out until 2014. When you limit it to 50, those larger businesses cannot buy into the exchange for two years,” Shumlin said.

“This was a hard decision, a very hard decision because there are people who will not have the opportunity to get into that market and they’ll have to wait two years and their employees will have to wait two years as well,” Smith said.

Currently, Vermont plans to implement its single-payer health care system in 2017, although there is legislation pending in Congress to move that date up to 2014.

In a hearing at the Statehouse last week, some business owners and advocates testified against portions of that plan that would have forbid bronze plans, which carry high deductibles but have lower premiums.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said Monday the proposal would create an opportunity for the health care exchanges to work and help improve access to health insurance.

“We believe it will be an effective way for them to get insurance to their employees and it does allow them to access some federal moneys for tax credits and premium subsidies,” Smith said. “In this whole debate that has been lost. There are opportunities for employers to have their employees have more access to coverage at a cheaper rate with the subsidies.”

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