Who are they kidding? Obamacare IS good for America!

Sen. Ted Cruz and the Republicans in Congress keep saying that the majority of Americans don't want Obamacare.  In the states that are working to implement the health care exchanges themselves, people are overwhelmingly for it.  It's in the states whose governors and legislatures rejected Obamacare and let the federal government create the exchanges that support is lacking.  And why not?  If people only hear their leaders bad-mouthing it and spouting misleading and false information about it, no wonder they say they don't like it.
Would someone please tell me how it can be bad for the American people when it will help 30 million more who are uninsured or underinsured obtain health insurance at a reasonable cost?

Legislative Report 9/12/2013 - Navigating the New Vermont Health Insurance Marketplace

Vermont will embark on a new era in health care on October 1, 2013, as the health insurance marketplace, called Vermont Health Connect, opens for enrollment.  Vermont is one of several states that set up its own marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare”.   Vermont Health Connect is designed to make it easier for eligible Vermonters to have access to and choose the level of coverage and cost for their health insurance as well as provide Vermonters access to federal subsidies based on their income level.  Only insurance purchased through Vermont Health Connect is eligible for federal subsidies that can lower premiums, and for many, out-of-pocket expenses.  The Vermont Health Connect website, www.VermontHealthConnect.gov, already has detailed information available.  As implemented in Vermont, Vermont Health Connect will be used by Vermonters purchasing individual or family plans and employers and employees of small businesses.  It is easiest to address these categories separately for clarity. 

Coverage for Individuals and Families

So, who is eligible to participate?  Simply put, any Vermonter who does not have insurance through their employer or through a government program like Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration benefits, or Dr. Dynasaur for children, is eligible.  Even if an employer offers health insurance, but the premiums cost more than 9.5% of the employee’s household income, the employee is eligible to purchase insurance through Vermont Health Connect and receive federal subsidies.  The open enrollment period starts on October 1, 2013, and ends on March 31, 2014.  After the open enrollment period, only “life changes”, such as marriage, loss of job, change in family size, etc., will be acceptable reasons to initiate or change insurance options.

Vermont Health Connect offers a list of approved health insurance options that provide standardized health care coverage at various levels of cost.  The standard plans have four benefit levels:

·         Bronze – 50% payment of covered medical expenses

·         Silver – 60% payment of covered medical expenses

·         Gold – 80% payment of covered medical expenses

·         Platinum – 90% payment of covered medical expenses.

Each level has different deductible and maximum out-of-pocket amounts.  Insurance premiums will vary by insurance provider, amount of deductibles and co-pays, benefit level, and amount of subsidy an individual or family is eligible for.  There are two insurance providers for Vermont, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP, each of whom offers the same coverage in the standard plans.  In addition to the four standard plans, there are non-standard plans offered by BCBS and MVP as well.  Catastrophic health plans are also available to individuals under 30 years old who meet certain income eligibility standards.

Federal subsidies for the premiums are based on household income and are paid directly to the provider to offset the premiums.  While the estimated subsidy for 2014 is based on the household income shown in the 2012 tax return filed this year, the subsidy will be adjusted when the 2013 tax return is filed; so, those who have had a major change in income can potentially see a change in the amount of the subsidy they are eligible for.  Adjustments for changes in a household’s financial circumstances can be made on a monthly basis.

Besides the health insurance plans, Vermont Health Connect also provides access to dental plans through Delta Dental for both adults, as a supplemental plan, and children, as dental is embedded in all medical plans for those up to 21.  Catastrophic dental care is integrated with the health insurance plans through BCBS and MVP. 

There is help every step of the way for individuals to learn more now and to enroll after October 1st:

  • Online – www.VermontHealthConnect.gov
  • Phone – 1-855-899-9600 (toll-free)
  • In-person – Use our website or call center to find a Navigator near you.  (Navigators are trained partner organizations or individuals who can guide you through the process.  A list can be found under the tab “Assisters & Partners” at the website.)

Starting in 2014, there is a federal penalty for not carrying health insurance. The penalty will be assessed on tax returns starting in 2014 and increasing each year through 2016.  For 2014 the penalty is the larger of 1% of household income or $95 per individual household member without coverage up to a maximum of $285. 

Small Business Participation

Small businesses, with 50 or fewer full-time employees will offer health insurance through Vermont Health Connect starting in 2014. There is no federal penalty for small businesses that do not offer health insurance to their employees.  Businesses will select a contribution level and the plans available to their employees (either all plans under one carrier or the full range of options).  The employee would then enroll in the plan of their choice through Vermont Health Connect.  If the employer offers health insurance to its employees, however, the employee would not be eligible for a federal insurance subsidy unless the cost to the employee exceeded 9.5% of the employee’s household income. 

Employers are eligible for federal tax credits if
  • they have fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs),
  • the average annual wage per FTE is less than $50,000, and
  • they contribute at least 50% of the health insurance premium per FTE. 
While there is no federal penalty for small employers that do not offer health insurance, the Vermont Employer Assessment remains.  This Vermont penalty is $40/month/employee for the 5th through the 49th employee.  (The first 4 employees are exempt.)  Therefore, each employer should analyze the effect on both their business bottom line and their employees before making a decision on whether or not to offer health insurance. The Small Employer Estimator, available now on www.VermontHealthConnect.gov, is designed to help employers with health coverage decision-making for 2014.
Employers who choose to enroll must select their coverage options by October 1st; employees should then enroll by November 30th.  Additional tools and resources are available specifically for small businesses and can be accessed at www.VermontHealthConnect.gov or by calling 1-855-499-9800 (toll-free).


MAY 20, 2013
Maine Rep. Sharon Treat, 
Iowa Rep. Charles Isenhart
563-557-1261 (in district); 515-281-3221
South Dakota Rep. Frank Kloucek, retired
Vermont Rep. Mike Yantachka 

May 20, 2013
WASHINGTON DC -- Today, more than 50 state legislators from 24 states sent a letter to the Acting US Trade Representative, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, expressing deep concerns about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would impact the environment, energy, and natural resources in their states and in other countries in agreement. The letter comes as the US is in the midst of the 17th round of TPP negotiations in Lima, Peru.   
In the letter, the state legislators wrote, "While we understand and appreciate that the United States is advocating for an ambitious and legally binding environment chapter of the TPP, we are deeply concerned that other parts of the agreement, including provisions on or related to investment and energy exports, threaten the environment and our responsibility, as legislators, to serve and protect our constituents." 
The concerns addressed in the letter include:
1. The need for an ambitious and binding environment chapter of the TPP that protects the environment, natural resources, and U.S. jobs, including a ban on the trade of illegally harvested timber, a ban on trade in illegally taken wildlife, and binding provisions on sustainable fisheries management.

2. Provisions in the TPP allowing investor-state dispute settlement, which would undermine the ability of local elected officials to enact and enforce fair, non-discriminatory rules that protect communities, workers, and the environment.
3. Language in the TPP that would increase exports of liquid natural gas by requiring the Department of Energy (DOE) to approve all US gas exports to TPP countries -- even if exports are not in the best interest of the public -- essentially overriding the DOE's ability to manage natural gas exports so as to protect the interests of communities and the environment.  

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is NAFTA on steroids.  If provisions allow corporations to sue state and national governments over laws and regulations that negatively impact their profits, it won't matter what laws we pass to protect our citizens and our environment," stated Vermont Rep. Mike Yantachka, who sponsored a resolution on the TPP and the environment which recently was enacted by the Vermont House and Senate (J.R.H. 12; details of the resolution are posted here). 
"This is too important and far reaching not to get exactly right. The environmental chapter can't just be the "10 Suggestions".  Binding understandings are necessary to protect the quality of our own, our children's and our grand children's lives," said Maine Representative Ann Peoples.
"Based on legal challenges that have been made under other international agreements, questions could be raised about many other state and federal programs, Iowa Representative Charles Isenhart said. "Food safety laws, country-of-origin meat
labeling, government procurement and renewable energy incentive programs could be at stake."
Maine Representative Sharon Treat, Co-chair of the Maine Citizen Trade Advisory Commission, stated: "It is critical that environmental regulations not be undermined by provisions in the TPP that seek to 'harmonize' standards and allow foreign corporations to challenge domestic laws in binding arbitration panels.  State legislators have a particular interest in how the TPP will operate. In our federalist system, U.S. state governments share environmental regulatory authority with the federal government, and must have the flexibility to develop more ambitious environmental policies in the future."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade pact currently being negotiated by the United States and 10 other countries across the Pacific Rim. Because the TPP is intended as a "docking agreement," other countries can join over time, and Japan has already announced its intention to join the talks. It is similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, only the scale and scope of the TPP could make its impacts much more severe.  Governments want to conclude this trade pact by October 2013. 
Read the full letter, which remains open for additional signatures, here.