Vermont Rebuts U.S. House Panel on Health Exchange

July 19, 2013

The state of Vermont is telling a U.S. House panel that it has every right to set up a state health insurance marketplace and require individuals and small businesses to purchase coverage through it.

State officials wrote to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to rebut a charge from Republican members of that committee that such a mandate violates the President Barack Obama’s health overhaul law.

“Your concerns about restricting the choice of health insurance by individuals and small groups to Vermont Health Connect are unwarranted,” wrote Mark Larson, head of the state health access agency, and Susan Donegan, the state’s financial regulation commissioner.

“Vermont’s laws are consistent with the principle of consumer choice and enhance employee choice from today’s market,” they wrote.

At issue are two adjacent provisions in the Affordable Care Act’s language that could be interpreted as in conflict with each other.

One says nothing in the federal law should be construed as making the state-based marketplaces anything but voluntary. Parts of the health insurance market may operate outside them, the law says.

The next section says nothing in the federal law should be construed as tying states’ hands or preventing them from regulating the health insurance markets as they see fit.

The commissioners wrote that in 2012, 98.6 percent of privately insured Vermonters were covered under insurance offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Health Insurance Co. or their subsidiaries. Both of those companies are planning to offer their wares through the marketplace, known as an exchange, the commissioners added.

The state also rebuffed a wide-ranging document request from the congressional committee, calling it overbroad.

Requests for comment from a committee spokeswoman drew no immediate response.

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