Vermont Governor Signs Compromise Health Care Reform Legislation

Vermont Gov. James Douglas (R) on Thursday signed two bills into law that establish a new state-funded insurance program for the uninsured and require employers to pay assessments if they do not offer health care coverage to their workers, the Burlington Free Press reports (Remsen, Burlington Free Press, 5/26). The new program, to be called Catamount Health, will offer health care coverage to about 30,000 uninsured state residents who do not quality for other public health programs, such as Medicaid. The state will subsidize premiums on a sliding scale based on participants’ incomes. The bill also sets a standard of care for any policies offered to the uninsured and creates programs to track and manage hospital infections. Funding for Catamount Health, which will provide coverage for primary and preventive care and for a disease management initiative, will come from the federal government, a 60-cent-per-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax and payments that tobacco manufacturers will make to the state beginning in 2008. In addition, the bill will require employers to pay a $365 annual assessment for each full-time equivalent employee if the company does not offer insurance to employees; if it offers insurance only to some employees; or if it offers insurance, but some employees remain uninsured. Employers will be allowed some exceptions to the assessment during the first four years of the program. Under an agreement reached by state lawmakers, if private insurers fail to voluntarily offer the new insurance program, state regulators could require them to offer it. After two years, the Commission on Health Care Reform will determine whether having the program offered through the private market is cost effective. A consultant selected jointly by the governor and the commission will conduct the evaluation (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 5/15). Private insurance companies will begin selling Catamount policies beginning Oct. 1, 2007, but supporters said steps toward reforming the health care system will begin as early as July 1 (Rutland Herald, 5/26).

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