Survey: More Vermont residents now have health insurance, but more work remains to be done

Associated Press

The percentage of Vermont residents without health insurance has been cut almost in half in two years, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday.

A Vermont Household Health Insurance Survey found that 19,000 of the 43,000 Vermonters without insurance during the 2012 survey are now covered, Shumlin said at a news conference.

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"It is great news that the number of uninsured Vermonters has significantly decreased," Shumlin said. "More Vermonters have insurance now than ever before, giving them access to quality care and peace of mind."

He credited the federal Affordable Care Act and its expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program, which traditionally has focused on covering poor people, with covering those of somewhat higher incomes.

"But that good news comes with its own consequences," Shumlin added.

Having more people on Medicaid worsens a problem known as the health care cost-shift, Shumlin said. Medicaid pays doctors and other providers less than it costs them to provide services, and they make up for the shortfall by charging more than they otherwise would for services paid for by private insurers. That drives up private insurance premiums, which are sometimes referred to as a hidden tax.

Shumlin vowed once again to try to boost Medicaid reimbursements for providers. An increase enacted last spring was trimmed during a round of budget cutting during the summer.

He acknowledged that raising reimbursements might require new or higher taxes but told reporters to "stay tuned" until his Jan. 15 budget address to find out which taxes those might be.

And Shumlin said even those who now have insurance thanks to the Medicaid expansion told surveyors they still often couldn't afford the cost of care.

The governor reiterated his disappointment that his long-held goal of moving Vermont to universal, publicly funded health coverage can't be achieved soon because of its high costs. He had planned to propose a financing plan for the single-payer system to lawmakers this winter.

But Shumlin said the survey results show progress is being made.

The state's uninsured rate dropped from 6.8 percent to 3.7 percent, the second-lowest rate in the country, the survey found. Only 1 percent of Vermont children younger than 18 are not covered, the lowest rate in the country.

The telephone survey by the firm Market Decisions was conducted from August to December with 4,052 randomly selected households questioned by landline and cellphone.