Federal Workers Discover their Health Plan Fails New Federal Guidelines
Apparently reversing course at the last minute, the Obama administration has informed federal AmeriCorps workers, including Vista volunteers, that their government-provided health insurance does not meet the standards of the new health care law, and they may have to pay a fine unless they obtain conforming insurance. Vista (Volunteers in Service to America) works to fight poverty through education, housing, jobs and social service programs. Started under President Lyndon Johnson in 1963, Vista became part of President Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps programs in 1993 under the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The insurance—the AmeriCorps Health Care Benefits Plan—“does not satisfy the individual responsibility requirement of the Affordable Care Act,” which takes effect on January 1, wrote Vista Director Mary Strasser in a bulletin to members on December 16. The plan does not cover pre-existing conditions or certain preventative care, both requirements of the health law.
The volunteers are apparently caught in a Catch-22: AmeriCorps argues that because they are technically not employees it does not have to offer them the “minimum essential coverage” needed to comply with the individual mandate, but as volunteers to work with the poor they are so badly paid they cannot afford better coverage.
But their low pay may be their salvation, according to Samantha Jo Warfield, an AmeriCorps spokeswoman, who told The New York Times that members might be eligible for a poverty exemption from the mandate, or even qualify for Medicaid, which about half the states are expanding as part of health care reform.
The eleventh hour nature of the change clearly rankled volunteers. Sarah L. Sklaw, a Vista member from New York City, complained to the Times that “it was surprising and frustrating to be told that our health coverage would not meet the law’s standards, especially because the Corporation for National and Community Service told us at orientation in August that we did not need to worry about the issue.”
Abby Grosslein, a Vista member in New Orleans, told The New York Times that the confusion made it seem “as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.”
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Vista Workers Told Their U.S. Health Plan Fails Test (by Robert Pear, New York Times)
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