Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s administration recently sent out a memo to over 2,000 state employees with household incomes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), urging them to drop their private family coverage and enroll their children in Dr. Dynasaur, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for children and pregnant women.
The suggestion was for the parent to obtain a single person policy, which would cost the parent $2,000 less annually than he or she is paying for the state’s private family health care plan. The administration claimed that for each parent who took this action, the state would save approximately $10,000 per year; it also stated that Vermont could save more than $5 million annually if only half the employees contacted made the switch. The state’s savings would occur because the federal matching funds for CHIP pay nearly 70 percent of Dr. Dynasaur’s costs.
In Vermont, a family of three with an income up to $57,000 per year would qualify for CHIP coverage. The administration emphasized that it is not altering any existing laws or program criteria but is simply informing state employees of their eligibility under the current program. No legislation or program amendments would be necessary–just the employee’s willingness to take advantage of the option.
The Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, Mark Larson, encouraged state employees to elect the public program option, stating, “It does provide an opportunity for coverage to be more affordable for a family and it does provide some opportunity for the state to provide health coverage for the family at less expense to the state.” He stressed that the Dr. Dynasaur program has not been expanded and that these families have always been eligible for the program.
The administration’s move has been criticized by opponents of the state’s proposed single payer system, such as the organization Vermonters for Health Care Freedom. They contend that the original intent of Dr. Dynasaur was to ensure that children of working families had access to health care when their families’ incomes were too great to qualify for Medicaid but they did not have access to employer-sponsored insurance plans. They argue that it’s not fair to shift more of the cost to state and federal taxpayers when employees do have access to a private plan.
Vermont joins at least six other states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Texas, which have also opened their CHIP plans to lower-income state employees.