The legislature required the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin to prepare contingency plans should Vermont Health Connect fail — again — to deliver smooth customer service for the 32,000 Vermonters who need to reenroll in health insurance plans beginning November 1.
“We aren’t expecting to use those contingency plans,” Lawrence Miller, chief of health reform for the administration, reported Wednesday to the House Health Care Committee.
Next week, state officials expect to transfer files to the health insurance companies that would roll over all current customers into the same insurance coverage that they have today — but with 2016 premiums and subsidies. If those transfers go well, customers will need to do nothing but pay the bill to continue their coverage — unless they want to change plans or alter who is included under the policy.
Miller predicted fast turnaround for changes, noting that the automated process that has been rolled out over the summer means half of all requests are handled while customers are on the phone.
Handling change requests was one of the major failings of the state’s health insurance marketplace. The backlog mushroomed to 14,000 at one point during Vermont Health Connect’s two-year existence. As recently as June 1, the backlog was more than 10,000. But Miller said that as of October 1, the backlog had been whittled to 186.
“There will always been an inventory” of requests for change, Miller told lawmakers. Vermont Health Connect receives about 120 requests each day for changes.
For the upcoming open-enrollment period for 2016 coverage, small employers with 50 or fewer employees will continue to deal directly with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Health Care, the two insurance companies that sell coverage on the exchange. Small employers have been required to buy Vermont Health Connect plans since the marketplace opened in 2013.
Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre) noted that Congress had dropped the requirement that employers with 50-100 employees start buying through health insurance exchanges this fall. He asked how that action would affect Vermont.
Miller said state law required that midsize employers shop on Vermont Health Connect for 2016 coverage. Like the very small employers, this group would buy directly from insurance companies. He said there are about 600 Vermont employers who are affected. They have about 20,000 employees.
Also this fall, individuals who are ineligible for federal or state subsidies to help reduce the cost of their insurance may buy directly from insurance companies.
“We’re ready,” Susan Gretkowski from MVP assured lawmakers.
Lawmakers hesitated to claim success. “They made impressive progress on what was a formidable challenge,” said House Health Care Committee chair Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg), referring to the backlog. “Of course, we never should have been there in the first place.”