Senate amends bill for study committee on state-mandated health insurance penalty

Michael Bielawski/TNR

YOU MUST HAVE IT: Democrats and Progressives, including Sens. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden (middle), and Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden (to his right), want Vermont to create a state individual mandate after the penalty for the federal Obamacare mandate was removed by the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont Senate on Tuesday voted to amend a bill which will create a summer study committee to examine potential penalties for not purchasing health insurance in Vermont.

The amendment to H.696 as proposed by Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, strips the bill of plans for a state individual mandate, leaving only a study group to evaluate different penalties that might be imposed for failure to carry health insurance. Lawmakers could then raise the issue of an individual mandate at a later time.

“Our solution was to remove, temporarily, the ongoing individual mandate that had a position in Vermont law and wait for the result the result of the summer study task force to come out with the penalty,” Sirotkin said. [We could] then appropriately combine both the penalty and the mandate together in a piece of legislation next year.”

Sirotkin and and other Democrats and Progressives think a state individual mandate is necessary after the penalty for the federal Obamacare mandate was removed by the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

As the session went on, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, asked for a clarification on the status of Vermont and federal law, and Sirotkin explained why he thought a state penalty would be a good idea.

“I don’t think the state itself had an individual mandate, but relied upon the federal individual mandate,” he said. “The federal individual mandate is still in place, but there is no penalty for someone who fails to buy insurance.”

The fear some lawmakers have in letting Vermonters refuse health insurance with no consequence is that premiums would likely rise for those who remain in the system.

However, a study by the Green Mountain Care Board published in February indicates that when the IRS penalty expires this year, the anticipated rate of uninsured may only rise from 3.7 percent to 4.3 percent.

This past year, premiums for Vermont went up an average 8.5 percent, according to healthinsurance.org, leaving at least one lawmaker to question if a state individual mandate is the way to go.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, was the only member of the Senate Finance Committee to vote against the bill. On the Senate floor, he said the language of the bill and amendment makes the inappropriate assumption that imposing an individual mandate is a foregone conclusion.

Michael Bielawski/TNR

STRATEGY SESSION: Senate Republicans consult one another during debate over a state individual mandate for Vermonters.

“I voted against this because I believe by that by stripping out the state mandate and leaving the study group alone, we have created the assumption of the end result of the study,” Brock said. “I don’t agree with that and I oppose that in principle.”

He added that penalizing Vermonters beyond their existing expenditures may not be a good idea.

“I certainly question as to whether the appropriateness of the statewide mandate makes sense in the first place,” he said.

Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, said that before the third reading of the bill, he will propose another amendment to indicate that a state mandate will be effective at some point in the future.

“I’m wondering if the committee considered just delaying the effective date of the mandate while we figure out how to enforce the mandate,” he said. “So in other words, put it out there that we will have a mandate but take the necessary time to figure it out.”

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, P/D-Chittenden, indicated that Pearson would be allowed to present such amendment before the third reading.

Brock also noted that the status of the federal mandate could change with the politics of Washington.

“The federal government can change the underlying mandate which this now refers to — it can change that at any time without our knowledge, involvement or anything else and we’re stuck with what’s left.”

Brock told True North afterward that the bill was rushed through his committee.

“The bill was hastily considered in the Senate Finance Committee,” he said. “Stripping out the language regarding the state individual mandate — which is what the bill was all about — leaves a study committee that, based on the wording of the amended bill, makes the assumption implicit that there will be an individual mandate.”

Brock voted against the amendment on the Senate floor and said if Pearson introduces an additional amendment, he will oppose that as well.

Sirotkin said his proposal fell between Pearson’s and Brock’s proposals.

“I think the Senate Finance Committee has hit a sweet spot: On the hand we have the senator to our left [Pearson] who says the bill doesn’t go far enough, and the senator to my further left [Brock] says the bill goes too far.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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11 thoughts on “Senate amends bill for study committee on state-mandated health insurance penalty

  1. So does one on medicare, that has been paying all his life for, now have to pay a penalty because he doesn’t have VT specific insurance? Obozo gave half the medicare treasury to pay for his highly touted and failed plan, is this in the works here too?
    Ain’t communism great?

    • Whatever you paid into Medicare wasn’t (isn’t) nearly enough compared to what you will cost in your years as a senior.Did your wife contribute as well?

      I guess communism is ok when it comes to your health care.

    • Yes, Obama lives on in ObamacareVT. There goes your tax cut. our General Assembly is a damned spending circus.

  2. YOU MUST HAVE IT: Democrats and Progressives, Sens. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden (middle), and Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden (to his right)

    Well , I guess I said enough!

  3. Burlington Free Press March 27, 2018
    Yet another attack on liberty
    John McClaughry
    The Vermont House has passed – with no apparent opposition – a bill (H.696) to mandate that “applicable individuals” purchase Obamacare health insurance or suffer penalties. “Applicable individuals” means every individual, not otherwise enrolled in employer sponsored insurance, or Medicare and Medicaid, excepting illegal aliens, persons incarcerated and persons claiming a religious exemption. The penalty would take effect in 2019.
    The rationale for this new mandate is that, starting in 2019, Congress reduced to zero the tax penalty imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) for not choosing to buy ObamaCare-approved health insurance. Now, with no price to pay for not buying benefit-rich plans, some, perhaps many, young, healthy “applicable individuals” will choose not to do so.
    Since 1991 state policy has been to load onto young people the medical expenses of their much older parents and grandparents. This is so despite the fact that it’s a “reverse Robin Hood” requirement. Young people, just starting out with their careers, starting families, and perhaps paying off college debts and buying a home, are far less able to pay for their older, sicker, but richer parents and grandparents.
    Legislators are worried that without the threat of an Obamacare-type penalty, some of these young, healthy people will escape the state’s clutches. Hence the new mandate.
    The bill declares the penalties, but doesn’t dare to say what they’ll be. It creates a working group to design the penalties, which will presumably be written into law next year.
    Let’s get real here. Just what penalty is the state going to impose on someone who doesn’t buy overpriced state-approved health insurance? This has been addressed before. It was a central part of the Health Security Act, promoted but not enacted in the 2005 Legislature (At least the promoters of that bill had the courage to actually declare the penalties).
    Here’s what those penalties were to be: “Individuals who are not otherwise covered, and who refuse to participate in the Plan, will be sanctioned by some combination of denial of motor vehicle registration, drivers’ license, homestead property tax exemption, hunting and fishing licenses, and enrollment in any school or college in the state.”
    Add to that a straight-out tax or fine, as in Obamacare, loss of your income tax exemption, confiscation of your income tax refund, garnishing of your wages, and maybe, for particularly defiant behavior, a trip to the correctional center, and you have the full panoply of state power over the liberty of Vermonters.
    What is really scandalous is that this bill passed the House without opposition. The bill is now in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, whose chairwoman, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, is on record in favor of the idea. Let’s hope there are enough senators concerned about preserving our liberties to reject this latest Big Government assault weapon.
    John McClaughry, of Kirby, is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

    • John,

      Trying to escape the state’s clutches regarding not buying health care insurance, will be punished with the full list of state powers to enforce compliance.

      Threatening to throw all but the kitchen sink at the “scofflaws” to enforce compliance is despicable and short-sighted.

      For many workers it means either paying rent or healthcare, or paying down a student loan, or saving for additional education and training.

  4. For Communist’s,By Communist’s,under the leadership of the self esteemed RINO Scott.

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