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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Thousands Of Vermonters Face Upcoming Health Care Deadline

State health care advocates are concerned that thousands of uninsured Vermonters will soon lose their ability to get subsidized coverage through Vermont's new health care exchange.

That could happen because the federal Affordable Care Act contains some deadlines that never existed in Vermont’s subsidized health care programs known as VHAP and Catamount Health Care.

One of the biggest differences is that the federal law has a defined enrollment period. If an individual doesn’t sign up for coverage by March 15, then he or she will have to wait until next January to have subsidized coverage.

Peter Sterling is the director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security. He’s worried that many uninsured Vermonters aren’t aware of the upcoming deadline in the federal law.

“Historically this uninsured population which tends to be lower income, which tends to be younger are very difficult to reach and we need to be doing more to get these people enrolled,” said Sterling.

"I think it is fair to say that there are a lot of Vermonters who continue to be uninsured" Mark Larson - Commissioner of Vermont Health Access

Mark Larson is the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health Access. He says the upcoming deadline will affect several groups of people.

The first group is the roughly 17,000 individuals who had their state subsidized coverage extended until April 1 because of technical problems with the exchange last fall.

The second group is the 42,000 Vermonters who are uninsured. Larson says many of them are eligible for federal subsidies but he’s concerned that a large number of them haven’t signed up yet.

“I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of Vermonters who continue to be uninsured,” Larson said. “The financial help available can make coverage more affordable than they might imagine.”

Larson says his department is ready to assist any Vermonter with the application process so they can meet the deadline.

“We’ll be using a variety of different strategies to reach out," said Larson. "We’ll be calling them directly and we’ll be sending out information by mail and hosting a number of events around the state.” 

Health advocate Sterling said it’s also important to target employers because many uninsured Vermonters work full time.

“So it would really be important to go educate employers and work through employers to have them encourage their employees to enter the exchange and enroll,” said Sterling.

Sterling said he would be disappointed if a majority of uninsured Vermonters don’t sign up by the end of the current enrollment period because it would mean they would have to wait another nine months before they could get subsidized coverage.