Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the state Department of Financial Regulation, speaks at a press briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response on April 3, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger
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Vermonters seeking medical care for Covid-19 can now get treatment at no cost.
Gov. Phil Scott has ordered private insurance companies to eliminate costs for the “diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19,” including copayments and deductibles. Scott and the Department of Financial Regulation announced the emergency regulation in a release Wednesday.
The rules require insurers to cover costs of all current and future care, and can be retroactively applied to March 13, when Scott declared a state of emergency.
“It’s an important piece of public health policy that people don’t have any challenges getting treatment for Covid-19,” said Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. “We think it’s the right thing to do … but it’s also going to make sure folks get the hospital care they need and help slow the spread of the disease down.”
The new rules only apply to those with private insurance, but Medicaid has already pledged to cover Covid-19 medical treatment, retroactive to March 1, according to Nissa James, spokesperson for the Department of Vermont Health Access. Officials at Medicare, the federally run insurance for seniors, have also made a similar commitment.
Piecak said he’s been considering the measure for weeks. But the state didn’t have the power to do so until the Legislature passed a wide-ranging Covid-19 response bill, H.742, which was signed into law on March 30. Vermont follows Massachusetts and Idaho in requiring statewide coverage of medical treatment related to the virus, said Piecak.
It marks an expansion of previous steps Vermont has taken to cut costs for Covid-19 care. On March 6, the Department of Financial Regulation ordered insurers to cover the cost of testing for the coronavirus. Later in the month, the state requested that insurers give Vermonters struggling to pay their bills more time to pay insurance premiums.
Sara Teachout, spokesperson for BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont, said it was too early to tell what it would cost the insurance company, but said the company had the cash to cover the added expense.
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“This is what member reserves are for — for unexpected and unanticipated changes,” she said. “We understand and support this waiving of cost-sharing for Covid-19.”
Piecak has estimated that the coronavirus could cost insurers a total of between $2.5 million and $5 million. “This is a moment when our health insurers were well capitalized and we need to use those resources to protect people and get the best health outcomes we can,” he said.
The state also expanded an open enrollment period for those without insurance through Vermont Health Connect. On March 20, the state allowed uninsured Vermonters to enroll in plans on the health insurance exchange. Since then 171 uninsured individuals had signed up for coverage, said James, the Vermont Health Access spokesperson.
More than 1,650 people have signed up for Medicaid coverage during the same period, she said.
Now, uninsured Vermonters can continue to sign up for insurance through May 15. Those who lose their jobs are also allowed to sign up to find a new plan, James added.
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