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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Winooski, Vt.) - Rob Henkel works hard making sails for boats at a Winooski, Vt. company. He also works hard at staying healthy. "I've never had health insurance," he told New England Cable News. "I exercise, I eat right, I take care of myself. I don't want to be paying for something I'm potentially not going to need."
The 46-year-old is required to have insurance starting next year, under the federal Affordable Care Act, or he'll have to pay penalties on his tax forms. "I'm not looking forward to the paperwork, the bureaucracy that's going to be there," Henkel said.
This week, the state of Vermont became the first in the nation to publish preliminary health insurance rates under the new federal law. You can study those proposed rates here.
After the premiums are finalized, an estimated 110,000 Vermonters who buy their own insurance or businesses with fewer than 50 employees can use an online marketplace called Vermont Health Connect to shop for plans. The full site opens in October, for coverage beginning in January.
Vermont's director of health care reform said the previewed rates from the two companies that filed them are comparable to what most of the Vermont customers are used to. In some cases, they may even be lower because of federal subsidies based on income and family size, Robin Lunge said. "We have, since the beginning, taken the Affordable Care Act seriously and we have moved forward with implementation because it was the right step for Vermonters," she added.
Critics of mandating insurance purchases through the exchange expect price increases and fewer options for high-deductible insurance plans. "If you just look at the rates, it's hard to tell," said Darcie Johnston of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom. "You really have to do the comparison of the plan you have today versus what is going to be offered next year and compare those. And it's hard to do."
Back at the sailmakers' workshop, Rob Henkel's boss is not required to fund insurance for his two employees. But Bill Fastiggi told NECN he is considering doing so, or at least helping, which could mean thousands of dollars a year. "That could be three to five percent of our gross," Fastiggi said. "When you think about it in that term, it could be lot."
Fastiggi and Henkel said they expect many Vermonters will have a lot to think about this summer and fall, as they crunch the numbers and chart the future of their health insurance. "I'll try to find the best option," Henkel said.
A series of public forums is scheduled to allow the public a chance to ask questions of state officials and weigh in on the health care exchange. The next forum is scheduled for Burlington on April 8. More events are listed here.