Vermont is moving forward with its quest to ensure that as many residents as possible have health insurance by enacting a law that will require all to be covered or be penalized.
The law, signed with no fanfare by Republican Gov. Phil Scott late last month, sets up a commission to work out the details of the law. The mandate is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Proponents say the law is needed to spread the insurance risk among as many people as possible and keep health insurance more affordable for everyone.
“The stability of our insurance market really demanded this,” said Republican State Rep. Anne Donahue, vice chair of the House Committee on Health Care.
Vermont has worked for years to ensure that as many of its residents as possible have health insurance. In 2014, the state abandoned what would have been the nation’s first statewide single-payer health care system.
The Affordable Care Act requires individuals to have health insurance or pay a penalty. But last year, Congress repealed that mandate effective 2019. Nationally, many rebelled against the idea that the federal government could tell them what they needed to buy.
The National Academy for State Health Policy found that five states — Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington — were considering a mandate. Connecticut has been studying one and a Washington D.C. group is recommending the district implement one. Massachusetts has had a mandate law for years.
“It is really significant that Vermont established an individual mandate and filled the gap with the federal roll-back,” said Trish Riley, executive director for the Academy.
Two days after Scott signed Vermont’s law, New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that requires residents to have health insurance or pay a penalty. That takes effect in January.
In Vermont, the penalty for not having insurance won’t necessarily be a financial one.
“We had a lot of concern, I think everybody does, about people who are not buying it because it is still totally unaffordable,” Donahue said. “The last thing you want to do to those folks is take money from them because they didn’t have enough money to buy insurance.”
Sara Teachout, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, the state’s largest private health insurance provider, said the organization welcomes the law.
“It provides stability,” Teachout said. “You can’t really look at the individual mandate alone. It’s part of a comprehensive health care system where everyone purchases insurance and everyone is covered, ideally.”