Vt. employers wrestle with health insurance change

At forum, Vt. employers tell Shumlin, business leaders that health insurance questions loom

Associated Press
Vt. employers wrestle with health insurance change
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Diann Percy, part owner of an excavation business based in Stowe, speaks during a forum for small business …

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Some Vermont small business owners are struggling to decide whether to continue providing health coverage for their workers or have them to buy it individually under the newly created health insurance marketplace and take advantage of federal tax credits.

At a forum Wednesday in Montpelier, some employers said the dilemma is especially acute for businesses that have a wide disparity between the highest- and lowest-paid workers. The health overhaul law requires employers to make an all-or-nothing decision about coverage.

Diann Percy, part owner of an excavation business based in Stowe, said it appeared lower-paid employees in her business would benefit from having their employer-sponsored health insurance stop. They would be able to buy individual or family coverage through the marketplace, called Vermont Health Connect, and would be eligible for the tax credit subsidies.

But if the company drops its coverage, its higher-paid employees would be left to buy their own insurance without the subsidy, at far higher cost than under their current, employer-sponsored health plan, she said.

The company, which averages 45 employees but has just 20 who are employed year-round, is leaning strongly toward dropping coverage.

"It's been a grueling decision," Percy said in an interview.

Percy was among more than a dozen participants in a forum attended by about 60 people who heard state officials defend Vermont's decision to set up the statewide exchange for individuals and businesses with up to 50 employees.

Gov. Peter Shumlin also reiterated his longstanding promise that the marketplace will be used as a springboard toward creation of a "universal, publicly financed" health insurance system to be set up by 2017 with the goal of making health coverage independent of employment altogether.

He called creation of the exchange "a good step, and we're committed to getting out of it the most that we possibly can." But, he warned, "it doesn't solve all of our problems" — chief among them the need to stem recent increases in health care costs.

Wednesday's forum was said to be the first of at least 14 — one in each Vermont county — during the next two months. Business owners will be invited to bring their questions as they prepare for coverage to take effect in January.

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