Health Care Committee leaning toward penalty for those who don’t buy insurance

Michael Bielawski/TNR

LEANING TOWARDS A PENALTY: The House Health Care Committee listens as Jason Levitis, head of State Health and Value Strategies for Princeton University, explains why Vermonters should face a financial penalty if they don’t purchase health insurance.

MONTPELIER — The House Committee on Health Care appears to be leaning toward imposing a financial penalty on Vermonters who do not purchase health insurance.

Last week during a meeting on health insurance, Jason Levitis, head of State Health and Value Strategies for Princeton University, addressed the committee by phone and advocated for penalizing Vermonters who opt out of purchasing private health insurance.

“A mandate that does not have a penalty behind it is going to be substantially less effective at getting people covered,” he said, referring to a new law in Vermont that requires people to have health insurance but doesn’t yet include a penalty for those who refuse.

The discussion comes as health insurance premiums continue to be too expensive for many.

Vermont health insurance premiums have been ranked the highest in the nation. In 2016 the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that, before subsidies, Vermonters age 40 an paid average $465 per month for the cheapest plan through Vermont Health Connect — that’s before substantial increases in the years that followed.

For the most part, the question before the committee was not if there will be a penalty, but how much will it be, and who pays. The thought was if too many low-income Vermonters are exempt from the penalty, it defeats the purpose of a mandate altogether.

Rep. Woodman Page, R-Newport, said he wanted to hear additional viewpoints on the matter.

“It’s only one individual, and I would like to hear from some other experts in the field and see what their advice was, and maybe even some [experts] that perhaps take the view of stay away from the individual mandate,” he said.

Rep. Lucy Rogers, D-Waterville, agreed.

“It was one individual and it would be helpful to hear from a couple other people who could offer us another perspective,” she said. ” … I just have so much hesitation about financially penalizing someone who is in a financially difficult situation and can’t afford health insurance.”

Rep. William J. Lippert Jr., D-Hinesburg, the committee chair, indicated that the mandate to have health insurance is a foregone conclusion.

“We’ve had some of that discussion and we concluded that we going to go forward with that mandate,” he said. “I’m just trying to move our process forward, and in some ways, I don’t want to plow around where we’ve already been.”

Members also discussed healthcare sharing ministries and whether their members should qualify for an exemption, since they were exempted from the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The religious-based health-expense sharing programs are affordable alternatives to health insurance policies.

Levitis suggested the ministries should not qualify as acceptable insurance. “There are some insurance regulators who have raised concerns,” he said.

One of those concerns, he said, is that health sharing ministries may be providing coverage to people who do not have a religious affiliation but simply want to escape Obamacare.

Rogers said she’s familiar with cost-sharing ministries because some of her constituents use the programs.

“They just explained it really well to me, because I’ve never heard about it before, and after they explained it I felt like I understood it pretty well,” she said.

Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, was asked by True North how young families struggling to make ends meet can be penalized for refusing to pay high premiums for health insurance. She responded by blaming the current administration in Washington.

“I’d say that the current federal administration has been very disruptive to progress in health care, and it’s actually their actions that have destabilized the insurance market and caused insurance rates to go up, and insurance companies to leave states.

“We find ourselves in a position here of trying to protect the people of Vermont from the harm the federal government has caused.”

Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington, had a different response.

“The current health care market place has many problems, and as long we continue to view health care as a product, we’re all gonna see these kinds of problems,” he said. “Healthcare shouldn’t be treated as a good that is bought and sold, it should be a public good that is provided to all people.”

Lippert said he hopes the committee will reach a conclusion about the bill before the midpoint of the legislative session, when most bills fail to advance.

“We need as much information as we can get, and we need to start making decisions,” he said.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

18 thoughts on “Health Care Committee leaning toward penalty for those who don’t buy insurance

  1. You are driving everyone out of Vermont . It is just a disguised socialized medicine. If you fall below a certain income level it works, if go above the income level which is not too high you pay full price, if you can’t pay the premium at full price you get penalize as part of your income tax which is usually at $1,800 per year . This is not a right to have health ins but is in fact a privilege to have. Employers and individuals should not be force to have health insurance or to be penalized . You politicians need to have the same health insurance as all of us have. Now you are discussing taking away medical sharing plans also. Stop trying to control everybody and stop trying to make us slaves of government .

  2. Don’t let any of this bother you, Vermont’s ” Socialist Sanders ” will make it all free when
    he becomes ” President Of The United States ” ……….. Just ask him !!

    Don’t forget you already have ” Socialist DemocRATs ” running the state House.

  3. Kaiser states that Vermont already has the highest insurance rates – why?

    Why doesn’t the Health Committee work on reducing costs- not increasing them by adding penalties!
    The only health insurance Vermonters can afford have high deductibles so they end up paying a good share of their medical bills before the insurance takes effect so they go without.

  4. Here’s an excerpt of my column from last October: “No matter what exemptions are agreed upon, the Big Hammer [mandate] will still fall on thousands of Vermonters. This will be an unfair Robin Hood in Reverse scheme, and an intolerable intrusion upon the liberty of Vermonters.
    “Vermont laws dating back to 1991 rescued Vermont Blue Cross Blue Shield from impending insolvency, by driving out almost all of its competitors in the individual and small group (under 100 employees) markets. This was achieved by imposing age-based “community rating” of premiums in those markets – all ages pay the same. Young, healthy Vermonters, just starting out in their careers and families, were thus saddled with subsidizing the higher health insurance costs of their older, sicker, but richer grandparents.”
    “In addition, everyone with private health insurance is forced to absorb the costs of the State’s drastic provider underpayment of Medicaid services that cover 30% of the state’s population. Many self-employed younger, healthier families with limited incomes, faced with high premium costs caused by forced subsidies for their elders and the required cross-subsidy to keep providers from exiting Medicaid, gamble and go without insurance. The state mandate is required to deny them any escape.”
    “Here’s another reason why the mandate law enacted this year should be repealed: Gov. Scott has appealed for programs to attract healthy working age immigrants into the state, productive people “who share our values and want to raise their family in the safest and healthiest state in the country.” [Fining them for not buying overpriced insurance won’t be much of an encouragement”}.

  5. So, let me get this straight—an outside “expert” from Princeton wants to convince gullible VT reps that they need to tyrannize their own struggling citizens with a penalty “tax”—in other words, VT needs another way to rob it’s already robbed and pillaged citizens so they can take over and “fix it” for us. So that we “scream” for more government? I don’t think so.

  6. The Fascist Murders are now going to protect VT’ers from the Feds…..

    What a crock of bull crap…We need term limits of ONE TERM ONLY…for these idiots on steroids.

  7. Many Vermonters are finding health insurance to be a worthless product. First they have to pay the outrageous amount for their. health insurance and then they have to pay the high deductible before they can collect even a penny from their health insurance. They are going without needed care because they can’t afford the deductible. It would be better for them to forego health insurance and just pay upfront for their needed care. Pres Trump was right to eliminate the individual mandate. Vermont is wrong to make it mandatory with a financial penalty. A financial penalty will take money from the poor to keep rates better for those who can still afford them.

  8. VT is a Liberal/Socialist experiment forced upon it’s people (those of lesser means) to seek the breaking point. CA is bad, but small VT is a better test bed for the outside forces to see what economical and regulatory forces they can exert and how much. I realized that’s one reason for all these “Flatlanders” came here from CA, NY, MN, MA, NJ, CT who have been instructed in social reform (such as LaLonde, Baruth, Rachelson and Pugh, look at their bills being introduced) to transform VT into an ideology as an experiment (being a small state) that can be observed easier to extend the policies to other states, one at a time for eventual takeover of all. Agenda 21. It all makes sense when the events during the past 40+ years are summarized / condensed in a nut shell and note the steady progression. There are evil forces at work and the good people have been slowly ruled over, I believe they are waking. Liberals desire everything, Conservatives are and have been laid back, live and let live.
    Many of these Flatlanders settled into Chittenden County, they become a single political force of one mind to control.
    That’s one reason Trump is so hated by the “outside forces” and within Congress. Keep an open eye and mind to the realities. Where will the breaking point be?

    • It would be nice to find an action point. To find a point upon which people find the need to assemble and chart their own course, to defend our constitutional republic from those who understand not what a democracy is and the “joys” of socialism.

      If they can expand poverty and dependence, of which they are excelling they have more votes and control, they have more programs of which to run. Government bloats worse than my stomach after consuming some vile cheap food for pacification and comfort, not good for either of us.

      Most people have no idea what organizations, plans and propaganda is being done with in our state. These committee are just like town and federal, doing the bidding of their members and lobbyists, care not nor question their actions against what they were sworn to defend and to whom they represent.

      I swear if we had a meeting of 50 people who comment regularly on Vermont Digger and True North Reports we could right this ship. Call in their friends and acquaintances and we’d have an assembly of people to which could not be bought or influence by anything but the truth and love for their fellow man.

      Love, Joy and Peace….would be a wonderful spirit to enter our state, we only need to turn from the division, envy, strife among other things being force fed our citizens. We can’t do it ourselves, we need a new spirit in this state, one we left years ago.

  9. First a stealth income tax increase now a penalty for not carrying health insurance – let me ask a dumb question: how will all these ill-gotten gains be spent???????????? Just another reason to shut down Montpelier after three weeks. The longer they sit there the more time they have to dream up new ways to gouge the folks.

  10. If someone is a member of a Health Care Sharing Ministry, they should be exempt from penalties. I am a member of one and I can tell you they will not accept just anyone as a member. You have to meet certain criteria to join. You can’t make use of your membership unless you meet these criteria. I hope someone will bring these committee members up to speed on how HCMs work.

  11. Here is a plan THEY could live with ! We’ll send them all our after-tax earnings, they can keep what they need and they can then return whatever happens to be left over after their spending spree has been paid for We’ll call it the “Suicide Tax !”

  12. Where’s our Lt. Governor? Does the read this? They won’t let you interact with responses on Vermont Digger anymore. In my comment about minimum wage I said Cari Dolan the freshman rep I happened to lose to was raising taxes anywhere she could to pay for her big clean up of Champlain.

    I said here you go again….give a raise and take it all away in taxes….here’s another one that’s going take even more form the average joe, you know it won’t be $15 for the year.

    The Lt.Gov. also strengthened my argument in that the cost of living is increasing faster in Vermont than wages can keep up. YES, YES YES…..we make everything tooo expensive, even aside from taxes.

    We have a gas monopoly in Chittenden county….still going on10 years later……

    Come to think about it, do we have any representatives from the D or P parties commenting on this site?…….even the public is absent from the D or P party for the most part, wonder why?

    • Neil, it will never happen. TNR isn’t in their reading repertoire. These folks only look to the left when crossing the road, never to the right. They have NO INTEREST in listening to a point of view the differs from their’s. They want control of your wallet and with that control they WILL decide what is best for you.

      If you can prove otherwise I and many other are listening. The writing has been on the wall and now your governor has little power to stop it.

  13. What utter scum. They want to literally take away EVERYTHING we have: Our money, our personal rights, everything. I’m getting out of this failed state as soon as I possibly can. It’s become a full-blown Marxist nightmare.

  14. Great… let’s take a terrible product, force people to buy it and penalize them if they don’t. We finally got our from underneath the federal mandate and along comes the state individual mandate. I do not understand why any legislator would cobble us to this corrupt program.

    My message to anyone who voted for the mandate is FIX THE SYSTEM. Let’s start with increased competition from providers other than BC/BC and MVP (duopoly) and other out of state providers. Find a way to rebuild the system so that the insurance companies do not profit obscenely while we struggle to meet our giant deductibles.

    Or, let us buy catastrophic policies. In essence, that is exactly what I have had for years because I cannot afford to use the healthcare I pay for every month.

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