Jan Demers: A look at the road to universal health care

There were so many questions. She had limited English and the forms before her were very confusing. “I talk slow because I translate in my head.” She needed help. Not a lot of help, but someone to help her navigate through the system so that she could access the benefits needed to stabilize her life.
We at CVOEO, and throughout the state of Vermont, are about to embark on a historic undertaking: the road to universal health care. In Addison County and throughout Vermont that road begins with Vermont Health Connect and it started yesterday. In January of 2014 VHAP (Vermont Health Access Plan) and Catamount Health will no longer be available to insure low-income Vermonters. In October individuals between the 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level and employers with 50 or fewer employees will be able to enroll in new insurance options. All of the plans offered through Vermont Health Connect will cover doctor visits, hospital stays, preventive care and prescription coverage. Depending on how much you earn, you might qualify for a low-cost or free health plan, or get financial help to lower the cost of your premiums and co-pays. There is a subsidy calculator on the Vermont Health Connect website which allows an initial test for eligibility: www.VermontHealthConnect.gov.
As a result of these plans no health insurer can deny you coverage because of a pre-existing health condition, such as diabetes or asthma.
If you enroll before Dec. 16, 2013, your insurance plan from Vermont Health Connect will be in effect by Jan. 1, 2014. There are three different ways to find assistance as you choose the plan that best suits your needs. Starting in September a Vermont-based Customer Support Center will be available to help over the telephone. There will be an online option at VermontHealthConnect.gov that will give you the information and portal needed to choose and enroll in a program. In October approximately 150 “Navigators” will be available to give one-on-one personal assistance to those needing insurance coverage. CVOEO, in partnerships with three other Community Action Agencies, is one of the four entities offering statewide help. 
The first Navigators began their training July 9 and 10. They will be in the community getting out the word about this program and the benefits of Vermont’s insurance coverage. “We learned that we are part of the first ‘trained Navigator group’ in the country,” said Jim White, Director of CVOEO’s Financial Futures Program. “I see it as the beginning of universal health care not just for Vermont, but for the whole country. Imagine — everyone having access to good health care, regardless of income, assets, diagnosis or whatever other stipulation. That’s pretty revolutionary, and our job is to get the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people firmly connected to this unfolding process right from the beginning. Seems like good work.” 
Anthropologist, physician and humanitarian Dr. Paul Farmer said, “I’ve been asked a lot for my view on American health care. Well, ‘it would be a good idea,’ to quote Gandhi.”

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