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U.S. House GOP Leaders Question Legality of Vt Health Care Exchange

AP/Toby Talbot

The U.S. House Oversight committee says the Vermont Health Care Exchange may be illegal because it includes a small business mandate.

House Republican leaders in Washington are examining the exchange because Vermont is the only state in the country that requires small businesses and individuals to purchase their health insurance through the entity beginning in January.

In a written release, Oversight committee chairman Daryl Issa asked the Obama Administration to investigate the Vermont exchange.  Issa says the small business mandate is in direct violation of the Affordable Care Act.

Robin Lunge is the director of Health Care Reform for the Shumlin Administration. She says there’s no question that Vermont’s mandate is legal.

We are confident that Act 171 is compliant - Vt Health Care Reform Director Robin Lunge

“We did do a thorough legal analysis of the state’s traditional regulatory authority over private insurance,” said Lunge. “And we’re confident that Act 171 is compliant.”

This issue was hotly debated during the 2012 session. At that time, Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop urged lawmakers to make participation in the exchange voluntary so that innovative health insurance products could be offered outside of the exchange.

“There could be additional wellness initiatives there could be additional help for businesses,” said Bishop. “There could certainly be a plethora of other services that could be offered in addition to that health care plan.”

Governor Peter Shumlin wanted the Exchange to be mandatory for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, in addition to all individuals.  Shumlin highlighted the availability of federal subsidies for some policies sold on the exchange and he said this approach would help the state implement a single payer system in several years.

“We want people in the exchange because we’re going to draw down hundreds of millions of federal dollars that will help Vermonters who are struggling to pay, pay for health insurance,” said Shumlin. “Second, in the long run it will help us get everyone into a single pool.”

Health Care Reform director Lunge thinks there’s something very political about the charges leveled by the House Oversight committee.

It really should come as no surprise to us that there are members of Congress who would be interested in looking at states that are taking creative approaches to ensuring that we create a smart health care system  that is affordable for all Vermonters,” said Lunge.  “And that we create a state based exchange that works for Vermonters.”

Lunge says there’s still a lot of work do on the exchange but she’s confident it will be ready to officially go into operation on October first.