COVID-19, Issues, Legislation/Bills

Late October Update 2022

Halloween is almost here! I know lots of kids, and adults too, are excited for a spooky, fun, and safe Halloween! With November around the corner, it means Election Day, health insurance open enrollment, and winter weather are coming soon. Read more for information on all of these topics.

Do you have a voting plan?
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Ballots were mailed to all active voters about a month ago, and more than 100,000 Vermonters have already voted. If you haven’t yet voted, make a plan to do so. Mail your ballot by this Monday, take it to the local drop box or town clerk, or vote in person on November 8th. If you’re not registered to vote at your current address, you can register to vote at any time, even on Election Day, and check your own personal My Voter Page to make sure your voter information is current. You can find the polling place in your town on this interactive map.

If your town has a local ballot initiative, you will likely have to request a separate local ballot or vote in person on Election Day, even if you already mailed your state ballot. This is true for voters in the Addison Northwest and Mount Abe school districts where a merger proposal is on the ballot, in Addison where a town bond is under consideration, and in Huntington where a solid waste district proposal is up for a vote. There may be other local initiatives, so check with town officials to be sure.

There are also two constitutional amendments are on the statewide ballot this year. I have written extensively about Proposal 5/Article 22 – the Reproductive Liberty Amendment in an effort to counter misinformation and confusion generated by opponents. The other amendment is Proposal 2 which clarifies that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited. While Vermont was the first state to officially prohibit slavery in its constitution, it did so with several exceptions, including enslavement of individuals under age 21 or for the payment of debt. This problematic language has been in Vermont’s constitution for far too long and especially given recent attacks on Black Americans and racial justice efforts, we must be clear in Vermont that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” Learn more about Proposal 2 at Vermont Interfaith Action and Abolish Slavery Vermont, and vote “yes” on Proposal 2.

Health Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid
The Open Enrollment period for most health insurance plans begins on November 1. If you don’t get insurance through an employer, check out the plans on Vermont Health Connect. Most Vermonters qualify for assistance paying premiums. For example, you may qualify for assistance if you are a one-person household with an annual income up to $118,000, or a household of four with an annual income up to $333,000. Vermonters can get significant assistance to purchase a plan with a lower premium and out-of-pocket costs, and recent changes in state and federal law have expanded eligibility. You can find a plan comparison tool and sign up for a health insurance plan or change your existing plan through Vermont Health Connect from November 1 to January 15. The Office of the Health Care Advocate, a free resource to help Vermonters with health care questions and problems, can help answer your questions. Visit their website, call 1-800-917-7787, or email hca@vtlegalaid.org to get assistance.

If you’re over age 65, you are likely concerned about your options for Medicare, especially due to intense advertising about various Medicare plans. After hearing many concerns from Vermonters about the confusing information and inflexible deadlines of these plans, the Legislature passed S.239/Act 99, which requires additional public outreach and a working group to make recommendations to the Legislature next session about how best to regulate such plans. In the meantime, if you need assistance navigating your Medicare choices, a great resource is the Age Well State Health Insurance Assistance Program which offers free and confidential health insurance counseling.

Finally, this past summer Vermont finalized negotiations with the federal government for our Medicaid Global Commitment to Health Agreement, which includes the details of the Vermont’s $1.8 billion Medicaid program for Vermonters with lower incomes. The Agreement covers a huge range of public health and healthcare programs and services, including the Dr. Dynasaur program for kids and pregnant Vermonters, Choices for Care long-term care program, substance use programs, services for disabled Vermonters, health insurance subsidies, pharmacy benefits, and housing supports. Last month I attended the Council of State Government Medicaid Leadership Academy to learn about Medicaid policy from colleagues around the country. I gave a brief presentation on Vermont’s Medicaid program and learned that we have one of the most comprehensive and innovative Medicaid programs in the country, covering a larger proportion of people and offering more services than other states, more than half of which is paid for with federal funds. The Public Assets Institute recently wrote a good blog post about the VT Medicaid Agreement, outlining the opportunities it provides.

Button Up Before Winter
With winter on the way, I know lots of folks are concerned about high fuel prices and advice for weatherizing their homes. There are a number of state and federal programs to help! Check out the Button Up Vermont website, for links to resources for conserving energy and accessing financial support for home projects or emergency energy needs. You can also go directly to the Efficiency Vermont website for “objective advice, technical services, and financial support to help you create healthier, happier, and more comfortable spaces.” Stay warm, save money, and conserve energy this winter!

Another important task before winter is to make sure you’re up-to-date with your COVID booster shots and flu vaccine. COVID cases are on the rise and flu season is upon us, so the best way to avoid severe illness is through vaccination. Check out the Department of Health website for information on both. You can get both shots at your doctor’s office or several local organizations run regular drop-in clinics, including Addison County Home Health and Hospice and Middlebury EMS.

Thanks for reading, stay healthy, and make a voting plan. Be well.