Vermont health care mandate bill throws affordable insurance alternatives under the bus

MONTPELIER — The new health care mandate bill working its way through the Legislature would prevent association health plans and health care sharing ministries from counting as adequate health insurance.

Both options are known to be more affordable health insurance alternatives with lower premiums and less bureaucracy. Without those options, members would then have to join one of the big two health insurance companies — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care — or face a financial penalty.

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SOMEONE’S GOTTA PAY: The struggle over the centralization of health insurance is ongoing as H.524, which requires health insurance for Vermonters at high costs, works its way through the House.

Association Health Plans, or AHPs, are groups of employees pooling money together to form a health insurance co-op. Sharing ministries are similar, only they are organized through religious organizations and usually require some amount of church participation.

The House Health Care Committee approved the bill last week.

It is generally expected that the penalty for not purchasing insurance will be similar in cost to the cheapest programs offered by the two big providers. Vermonters with incomes under 138 percent of the poverty level should be exempt for the penalty, and those under 250 percent get a half-penalty.

Two AHPs were approved for Vermont, one through the Chambers of Commerce and another through the Business Resource Services, both operational since October 2018.

The most recent newsletter sent from the Vermont Independent Schools Association says about H.524, “The bill would remove these popular new options [AHPs] for small businesses from the market. Efforts to grandfather existing plans were also discussed, but ultimately dismissed as well.”

It adds: “About 5,000 employees are now covered through AHPs and if these plans were eliminated, premiums for these businesses and their employees likely would increase significantly for the 2020 enrollment year.”

AHPs were originally not counted as adequate insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and then the Trump Administration in September 2018 stepped in and issued an executive order to allow them to qualify, as long as they meet the appropriate state requirements.

“The Vermont Chamber is advocating for maintaining AHPs as an option for employers to provide insurance with increased options for price, benefits and plan design,” the Vermont Independent Schools Association newsletter states.

Bill Moore, president of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, told True North that small businesses struggle to provide affordable benefits, especially health care.

He explained what the bill does is require businesses with fewer than 100 employees to leave the AHPs and return to the Vermont Health Connect pool of about 75,000 members. Companies with more than 100 employees can go to a health insurance provider and get a deal based on their employees’ medical history and other factors.

“Unfortunately it’s going to impact the ability of smaller businesses to be competitive and to offer a competitively priced health care package to their employees,” Moore said.

“They lose the value of that group buying power, which makes them totally noncompetitive in terms of being able to purchase benefits for next year should the measure pass.”

Meg Hansen of Vermonters for Healthcare Freedom told True North that the clear majority of the Individual Insurance Mandate Working group last year called for protecting the exemption for the health care sharing ministries.

The faith-based plans work by having members agree to pay each other’s health care bills. Once a health care bill is submitted, the cost sharing network pays a cash payment directly to health care providers at a reduced-rate.

“In spite of hearing from the people, the House Health Care Committee has decided that Vermont should eliminate the religious exemption from the mandate that was offered to health care sharing ministries by Obamacare,” Hansen said.

She noted that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont had been advocating for getting the ministries disqualified.

“If implemented, the bill could force Vermonters who belong to sharing ministries to forgo health insurance altogether, as many feel that they cannot pay into a system that violates their religious beliefs. How does forcing people to give up health insurance amount to sensible policy making?” Hansen said.

Joel Noble, director of public policy for Samaritan Ministries, told True North that he testified to the working group last year and all of its members except for one were in favor allowing the ministries to continue as legitimate health insurance. The one member who defected was representing Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“It’s really a matter of Blue Cross Blue Shield not wanting the competition,” he said.

Noble said Samaritan Ministries has been operating for 25 years and they pay nearly $30 million in costs every month.

“Their needs are being met, their bills are being paid,” he said. “The idea that they need separate health insurance doesn’t make any sense; there’s no reason why our members should not be able to continue.”

He noted if the Vermont members are forced onto the two big providers, many of them are going to have to be subsidized or forced onto Medicaid, which is only going to further drive up costs overall.

Monthly costs for an individual in a health care sharing ministry can be close to $100 a month and $300 for a family of any size, according to Noble. He said the ministries keep costs down by not having a huge administrative bureaucracy. Also, members are allowed to make all their own choices regarding where to get their service.

Another issue is both MVP and Blue Cross Blue Shield use their money to support elective abortions, meaning members forced out of sharing ministries may have to forgo those options for their religious beliefs or pay the penalty and still not have any insurance.

The bill will next appear on the House floor, and from there, if passed, it would go on to the Senate.

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

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7 thoughts on “Vermont health care mandate bill throws affordable insurance alternatives under the bus

  1. It is all about controlling every aspect of our lives. If the legislature is doing this to push back against President Trumps executive order to allow the AHPs, then that could take votes away from the majority in the next election, we can only hope.

  2. Throw the bums out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We have no one to blame but ourselves This is what happens when we send a bunch of Lib/Dem/Progs to Montpelier with little or no knowledge and a feel good mentality. We all suffer.

  3. It’s reasonable to assume that the average legislator, you know, the former school board member, real estate agent, or non-profit administrator, the people who know nothing of, or care to know, how the world actually works but need something to do in order to think well of themselves, can continue to come up with hair-brained schemes that prove, time and again, to be a detriment to the utopian life style they so desperately feel is within their reach at every turn in the road.

    So, my question is, who is it telling these gullible ne’er-do-wells which foot to put in front of the other in order to reach the lavatory each day?

    Who is pulling the GMCB’s strings? If the GMCB role is truly ‘…to ensure that our health care system provides quality, affordable health care to all Vermonters while reducing waste and controlling costs’, it is failing miserably. But someone is profiting. The money goes somewhere. Figure out who they are and you will find the answer to this ongoing calamity.

    • Another Q—who is pulling their strings about gun control? There is a set pattern of social molding by those in VT’s Government. There are a few that are decent and have common sense, so I can’t say all of them. Every time I think matters can’t get worse, it gets worse, a bottomless pit of stupidity.

      • Different circumstance entirely. The only folks who might profit from gun control are the bow and arrow folks.

        • Maybe true, anything that can project any type of missile even a pea in a straw is suspect. I have read that crossbows are under scrutiny. A Rep Chris Bates D-Bennington who moved to VT 6 years ago from Iowa and introduced Bill 211 about air guns banning titled “An act relating to prohibiting the use of air guns to take big game” Note his reply, it wasn’t about air guns—what????
          My email to him:
          H 211 What is your problem with air guns? They are very safe and efficient. Are you on a course to outlaw all guns, which it seems to be in Montpelier. Are pea shooters next?
          This is outright stupidity. Give a reason or does it fall in the scope to control people at any junction? What outside source influenced you? Is it money?
          Thanks for coming to VT to ruin our way of life, which is very gun safe.

          His reply:
          I don’t want to outlaw the Air rifle at all! I am surprised you would think that after you read the bill, I am an Outdoor Tv host I was approached by an air rifle Mfg and wanted me to use one of their 50 Cal air rifles on a deer hunt, I was very reluctant to say the least, as I prefer my 30/30, anyway I agreed to the hunt, I was 40 yards for the deer I hit it smack dab in the kill zone, the deer jumped just like it was hit only it didn’t fall, My cameraman was filming the whole time, within 5 min the deer took off, we went to look for blood NOTHING, I was damn sure I hit the deer , and I was right I did, I looked at the footage the 250 grain pellet never penetrated the deer !!!!!~!!! so as you could imagine the F word was flying, and of course I immediately said the air rifle was junk!

          PS from my knowledge and research and meeting a guy that makes them (USA) in MO and his web site, his guns are awesome and take big game. His analysis was by and by people that had little knowledge and the gun was made in Korea. Lewis and Clark had one on their exploration and saved them in that era.

          Shows politicians don’t know what they are talking about, little knowledge–ban all.

  4. The corporate insurance providers in Vermont, nor the power hungry legislators and their unelected staffers in Montpelier, need worry about those of us who choose the option of Christian health care ministries to cover our health care needs – we have not suffered any negative impact with this choice, as they feign is their only concern. CHOICE is the operative word here – we are not tied to any network of doctors and our treatments are not dictated by bureaucrats. Our monthly contribution (think premium) is reasonable and our personal obligation (think deductible) is as well. We can afford this coverage/responsibility on our own and don’t need an employer to subsidize us. We take responsibility for shopping for the best care at the best cost. The only real problem for the folks in Montpelier is that we are not under their control. Forcing free people to purchase a product they don’t need is unconstitutional. I’m spending the few dollars the tax collectors let me keep in the manner I see fit, and in the manner that fits MY needs. I understand the Vermont Health Care Connect NEEDS my money to make their inadequate system resemble something that works – but that’s not MY problem. The government should STAY OUT of my health care – it’s MY body, right? Or is that applicable only if I want to kill my unborn child?

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