Despite the federal government shutdown Tuesday morning, Vermont Health Connect, the healthcare exchange that has often led to more questions than answers, is now open for business.
State officials announced the exchange enrollment period began October 1, and individuals and small businesses can purchase coverage from the two insurance carriers in the exchange, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care.
Different options through the exchange are set up through a rating system of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans. Some plans include higher premiums but lower out-of-pocket expenses. Visit www.healthconnect.vermont.gov for more detail on the plans.
Individuals and families will also be eligible for different levels of tax subsidies to help pay for coverage. Those making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level can get some form of financial assistance.
Information about out-of-pocket and deductible caps and limits is not yet available, but officials are working on resolving that issue, according to a statement from Mark Larson, the Department of Vermont Health Access’ commissioner.
Open enrollment runs from October 1 through March 31, 2014. People signing up before 2014 will see coverage begin on January 1. Those who miss the signup period will have to wait until October 2014 to enroll or pay tax penalties for not participating in the exchange.
A state call center opened Tuesday morning at 8, while the Vermont Health Connect website went live at 9 a.m., said Emily Yahr of the state’s health care reform program.
Vermont Health Care Reform did not respond to Messenger requests for comment as of press time Tuesday morning.
Locally, both the town of Milton and the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted healthcare forums in September for people and small business owners to discuss the exchange.
The chamber, along with other local organizations like the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity in Franklin/Grand Isle and Chittenden counties and Fletcher Allen, are serving the area as “navigators.” Navigators are trained and certified to assist people in picking coverage.
Leading up to Tuesday, the chamber’s calls have doubled, said Lisamarie Charlesworth, executive assistant to the FCRCC director.
“I don’t think people are quite ready to sign up yet,” Charlesworth said.
Health Care Reform Director Robin Lunge told the Associated Press she doesn’t expect people to sign up right away. In his statement, Larson said the six-month enrollment period will primarily be used to learn about and compare benefits in the marketplace.
“For Vermonters who want their plan to begin on January 1, they will have until December to pick the plan that best meets their 2014 needs,” he said.
Vermont Health Connect website also has a lengthy frequently asked questions section.
While the chamber has been busier helping people navigate the healthcare exchange waters, people have been mostly self-reliant when it comes to exploring the changes, Charlesworth said.
“I would say most people are taking it upon themselves,” she said. “People are definitely doing their due diligence.”
The opening of the exchange is expected to come with “some bumps along the way” as officials continue to address issues, Lunge told the AP.
Vermont Health Connect was set up under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, at the heart of the national debate leading to the government shutdown announced Tuesday morning. The federal healthcare law is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.