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Poll: Vt. Exchange Unknown to Most

Montpelier — The state is revving up its outreach engine in advance of the Oct. 1 launch of its new health insurance market. And not a moment too soon, according to recent polling.

A new state survey conducted in late August shows that the majority of Vermonters have not heard of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health insurance exchange.

Of the 43 percent who have heard of Vermont Health Connect, less than half know what it is.

Vermont Health Connect is set to open Oct. 1 for window-shopping of health plans, and state officials are hopeful it will be ready Nov. 1 for business. By Jan. 1, it will become the sole health insurance market for roughly 100,000 Vermonters buying insurance independently or through small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Between Nov. 1 and March 31, these Vermonters will lose their current coverage and be legally required to buy new plans on the exchange.

The survey released Wednesday is the second of its kind. The polling is part of a $2.9 million contract with Washington, D.C.-based GMMB for outreach services related to the exchange. Lake Research Partners completed the first poll, and two of the partners spun off to form PerryUndem Research and Communications, which completed the second poll.

The state has roughly $9 million in federal funds for outreach and education purposes associated with Vermont Health Connect.

This recent survey shows public awareness improved 16 points from the first poll in March 2012. More than a year ago, 73 percent of Vermonters had never heard of an online health insurance exchange.

Lindsey Tucker, the deputy commissioner of Vermont Health Access charged with overseeing the implementation of the exchange, said the state has “made strides” in reaching out to Vermonters but acknowledged there is “significant work to do.

“We are working in two particular areas to reach folks: one is our advertising campaign and the other is through in-person assistance. We know that those are really the two strongest ways people get information and education: through the media and through peer-to-peer interaction,” she said.

The August 2013 survey was completed before the state began ramping up its outreach efforts. In September, the state rolled out a wave of broadcast and print media ads, and the state’s in-person assisters, known as navigators, kicked into high gear.

Tucker said this poll is meant to act as a baseline for gauging the effectiveness of the state’s outreach efforts. In early 2014, another poll is planned.

PerryUndem surveyed 1,009 Vermont residents between the ages of 18 and 64, from Aug. 28-31. One of the firms key findings was that those populations who have the most to gain from the new market — and its many subsidies for Vermonters earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — are the ones who are least likely to know about it.

PerryUndem found that:

■ 29 percent of Vermonters with a high school degree or less had heard of the exchange.

■ 30 percent of uninsured Vermonters had heard of it.

■ 31 percent of individuals who earn less than 134 percent of the federal poverty line — and thus will be eligible for Medicaid — had heard of it.

34 percent of young Vermonters, ages 18-29, had heard of it.

Of the small business employees who were surveyed, less than half say their bosses have spoken to them about the changes in health insurance. Of the employers surveyed, only a quarter say that they have spoken to their employees about Vermont Health Connect.

“There are particular populations that we have prioritized, and the survey was helpful for us in confirming that those populations are important,” Tucker said. “That is really unsurprisingly the small business community, the uninsured, and those that are subsidy eligible.”