Vermont Launches Tool to Help Compare 2019 Health Plans and Save Money

This is a reprint of a press release sent out by Governor Scott’s Office on 10/19/18.

Recent changes mean that Vermonters who take a few minutes to compare plans will find more choices and more financial help than ever before


WATERBURY, VT – In preparation for open enrollment, state officials have launched the 2019 version of an online tool that helps Vermonters weigh insurance options and choose the health plan that best fits their needs and budget. The 2019 Plan Comparison Tool is accessible from and allows individuals and small business employees to easily screen at least 26 health plan options.


As in past years, the tool allows members to compare total costs in an average year or bad year, view doctor directories and drug lists, and much more. New this year, the tool also provides members with the ability to see their total costs in a low-use year (or “good year”) and the likelihood of someone with their age and health status having a good year. 


With big changes on the horizon, the tool is an essential five-minute step for all current and prospective members of Vermont’s health insurance marketplace.


Three big changes in marketplace


First, it’s important to note that most Vermonters who purchase health insurance on their own qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. Due to a complex set of events initiated by recent federal changes, that financial help will go way up in 2019. Subsidized single members will receive over $1,200 more in 2019 than they did in 2018, while couples and families will generally receive over $2,500 more.  This means that most members will see significant savings if they explore all options (see what the typical member pays in 2018 vs. 2019).


A second change is that premiums for silver-level qualified health plans (QHPs) are increasing much more than other metal level plans. This is especially notable because three out of five (60%) individuals are currently enrolled in silver plans. It is especially important for these members to actively explore their alternatives.


Finally, to help small business employees and higher income individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for financial help, Vermont developed “reflective silver” plans. These plans – available only by calling Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (BCBSVT) or MVP Health Care (MVP) directly – give unsubsidized members the opportunity to buy silver plans for closer to the price they paid for similar plans in 2018. Reflective silver plans are displayed on the 2019 Plan Comparison Tool, but only if the tool determines that the user does not qualify for subsidies.


“We want Vermonters to know that there were policy changes at the federal level that could impact the cost of their current plans,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I want to thank the members of my Administration, legislature, and stakeholders across the state who came together to respond to these changes with a focus on affordability for Vermonters. The key remaining step is for Vermonters to pick the right plans and, fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool is here as a resource to help them do just that,” Governor Scott added.


Time to take action


Current Vermont Health Connect members aren’t required to compare health plans or to take any action at all. As long as they continue to pay their bills, members are automatically renewed into the 2019 version of their 2018 plan. In past years, most members have gone this route. Due to this year’s changes, however, officials are strongly encouraging members to invest the time needed to be sure they’re in the best plan for them.


“This is not the year to auto-renew,” said Cory Gustafson, Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. “Comparison shopping is how Americans try to get the best deal possible for all kinds of consumer choices. That is true for every purchase, every year, but it’s especially true for health insurance in 2019. The difference between the ‘right plan’ and ‘wrong plan’ could easily be thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool will help Vermonters identify the right plan.”


About the Plan Comparison Tool


The Plan Comparison Tool was developed by the non-profit Consumers' Checkbook and has won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's award for best plan choice tool. This is the fourth year that Vermont is using the tool. It has been used in nearly 60,000 sessions over the last twelve months.


After taking a couple minutes to enter age, income, health status, and expected use of medical services, the anonymous tool tells the user if they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. It also presents the estimated total annual costs (premium minus subsidies plus estimated out-of-pocket) of each of the 26+ qualified health plans. The user then has several options for sorting and screening results, or they can dive into plan details and link to more information on the BCBSVT and MVP websites.


“This kind of resource is very important because a consumer just can't figure out: is a plan with the $200 deductible and a $10,000 out-of-pocket limit better for me than a plan with a $2,000 deductible and $4,000 out-of-pocket limit—and how about differences in co-pays, co-insurance, etc.?” said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook. “People don't know how much various health services cost or their likelihood of needing different services – and even health insurance experts can be hard-pressed to figure out which plan is best without a helpful tool. Vermont Health Connect is a leader in making this help available.”


About 2019 Open Enrollment


Open Enrollment is the time when new applicants can use the marketplace to sign up for health and dental plans for the coming year. It is also an opportunity for existing members to change plans – an option that many more members than usual will want to consider for 2019.


This year’s Open Enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15, just like last year. Vermonters who sign up or request a new plan will have a start date of January 1.  Those who miss the deadline could have to wait until January 2020 to start health coverage, although residents who qualify for Medicaid can sign up throughout the year and those who qualify for a Special Enrollment Period generally have 60 days to sign up.


Starting November 1, applicants can sign up in one of four ways: online, by phone, by paper, or with an in-person assister. For more information or to get started, visit or call 1-855-899-9600.


Where do Lottery Proceeds go? Thought it went to education.

I get asked this question fairly often.  Here's the deal.  The Vermont State Lottery generates approximately $122 million in gross revenues from the sale of lottery tickets.  The net proceeds ARE contributed to the state education fund and have been since 1999.  Last year the lottery contributed $25 million to the education fund, which is slightly higher than previous years.  This is a very small part of the $1.7 billion education fund, but is still very important.  To take a look at the details of the Vermont State Lottery, take a look at the 2017 Annual Report.  



2/25/2018 - Lower My Property Taxes

I haven’t met anybody who feels that their property taxes are too low - quite the opposite.  It may be the one thing on which all Vermonters agree.  That said, there is no agreement on how to lower them.

The education funding reform currently being considered in the legislature is an attempt to enact sweeping reforms to the funding system to accomplish four things:

  • make it easier to understand
  • tax people based on income instead of property value
  • make home owners feel the direct impact of school spending decisions 
  • make high spending school districts pay more

The impact of this proposal is huge and the legislature has decided to slow down the consideration of it.  That’s a good thing because residents of the modified, unified Woodstock school district would see a large increase in property (and income) taxes.  We are a “high spending” district at $18,000 per student.   People with a high property value (over $400K) and who also receive some relief through and income sensitivity adjustment in a high spending district could see an increase in the adjusted property tax bill of 25-30%.  Others could see an increase in the property tax bill AND pay a new education income tax. 

The biggest impact, and the most compelling reason to argue against this bill, is on folks who have lived in their homes for a long time and have a fixed income.  For that reason, I am glad the bill is now on the slow boat.    

I introduced H.800, a bill intended to help long time home owners stay in their homes without being taxed out of them.  The idea is to simplify the taxable value of properties by using the purchase price (or value of construction for new homes) plus an annual adjustment for inflation.  In that way home owners would not suffer greater taxes because their property gained market value.  It also would eliminate the need for townwide reassessments and the CLA (Common Level of Appraisal).  Critics have rightly pointed out some of the consequences of such an approach:  inequity in property taxes for similar properties, stagnated sales of properties and renewal of neighborhoods, depressed sales of vacant lots for redevelopment, establishment of additional fees for existing services.  California has experienced all of these and more after passing Proposition 13 in 1977.  My proposal is different, in that the notion was to simplify the valuation but not to artificially restrain the tax rate.  But…it isn’t perfect and still awaits consideration by the Ways and Means Committee in the legislature. 

The current system for funding education has many flaws and the legislature will continue to look at ways to fix the system so that it meets the key principles of any tax system:  Simplicity, Fairness, Sustainability, Accountability, Tax Neutrality and Competitiveness.  We have some work to do. 

In the meantime, school boards and state officials continue to look for ways to reduce spending in education to lower the property tax, while at the same time improving outcomes and meeting the needs of all the members of the school community.  That is no easy task.  And, we are amidst the implementation of Act 46, the impacts of which won’t be fully realized for some time.  There will be some funding revisions brought forth in this legislative session, though it is not clear the exact form that they will take.  Stay tuned.

3/12/2018 - Tax Credits Fund Housing and Community Development

Tax credits are fairly complicated and somewhat obtuse but have proven to be very effective in encouraging investment in the rehabilitation and revitalization of real estate in Vermont.  They are “tax expenditures” of the State because they result in less tax revenues to support the obligations of the state.  Because of that, establishing new tax credits or expanding existing ones are carefully scrutinized by the money committees in the legislature – and rightly so. 

Who buys tax credits?  A person (including individuals, corporations, etc…) who is certain to have a hefty tax bill with the State every year.  Banks can buy tax credits to reduce their annual franchise tax, and so they are the most common purchasers of tax credits in Vermont.   Let me know if you want to learn more about this.    

H.766 is a bill that deals with three different types of tax credits.  It was passed out of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and is now being considered by the Ways and Means committee before going to the rest of the House for consideration.  Here is what is in the bill: 

1. Establishing a rehabilitation tax credit pilot project.  The bill allocates $625,000 in tax credits to be divided amongst three applicant towns to incentivize the rehabilitation of existing homes in neighborhood areas that border an existing Village Center or Designated Downtown.  The deal is that a homeowner can receive a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of rehabilitating an existing home, limited to $25,000, as long as the building is a 1-4 unit structure and is under the median price of a house in the state.  The mechanics of the program are fairly complicated (that is why it is a pilot project right now) but the goal is to revitalize Vermont’s aging housing stock.  If successful, it can be expanded and repeated in future years.

2.  Increasing the Downpayment Assistance Program for first time home buyers, administered by VHFA.  The bill authorizes additional tax credits of $125,000 per year for five years to fund down payment loans of up to $5,000, secured by a second mortgage on the property.  Recipients of these grants must qualify for a VHFA mortgage.  This program has provided assistance to more than 600 home buyers in Vermont and is proven to make home ownership a reality for those who would not otherwise qualify.  The eventual repayment of these loans (at 0% interest) will create self-sustaining fund in approximately 5 years. 

3.  Increasing the Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit to $2,650,000 per year.  This program is aimed at providing financial incentives for the rehabilitation of  commercial buildings in Designated Downtowns and Village Centers.  (Woodstock is a Village Center, Reading is applying for approval as a Village Center).  From 2013-2017, 141 projects in 52 communities received total tax credits of $12 million, leveraging another $181 million in private investment.  There is a lot of competition for this annual allocation of tax credits, so not every application receives funding. 

I support this use of tax expenditures to provide meaningful financial incentives for community  development in Vermont.  It is my hope that the rest of the legislature sees the value in these programs as well.