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OPINION: Group Condemns Cost-Shift to Workers and Patients

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The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign released the following statement today in response to recent information concerning Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposal to finance Green Mountain Care:

“The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign urges the Governor to refrain from financing health care reform through a massive cost-shift to workers and patients. Vermont cannot afford to reduce the contributions of big businesses to our healthcare system. We remind the governor of the legal obligation, set out in Act 48, to finance health care in an equitable way, based on ability to pay. It is unconscionable to make workers, low and middle income individuals, and small businesses shoulder the burden of paying for a health care system that is supposed to be a public good shared equitably by everyone.

The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign is deeply concerned about a report in the VTDigger.org (“Single Payer Financing Likely to Start with 8 Percent Payroll Tax, Dec. 4, 2014), which suggests that Governor Shumlin’s financing proposals will dramatically reduce large businesses’ health care contributions, with a flat payroll tax of 8 percent raising less than half the total amount needed for the new system. Large businesses currently spend around 20 percent of their payroll costs on health care premiums, contributing around three-quarters of premiums costs of all privately insured residents. The campaign is concerned that a flat payroll tax, combined with a proposed individual healthcare “fee,” would entail a huge cost-shift to workers and small businesses. Paying for over half of the system costs through an “income sensitive health care fee” on individuals, capped at the high end, would benefit both large businesses and the wealthiest Vermont residents, who would pay proportionally the same as middle income earners. Unearned income, assets and other wealth would be exempt, yet the poorest residents would be subject to premium or fee payments.

The Health Care Is a Human Right Campaign opposes any financing plan that creates exemptions for high income earners and wealthy individuals, as this directly contradicts the principle of equity. Moreover, the campaign objects to charging “premiums” or “fees,” which are private payments that perpetuate the current insurance system, and fail to establish a publicly financed health care system, paid for through equitable taxes.

The campaign reminds elected officials that how the health care system is paid for also has significant implications for whether people can get access to care. We are deeply concerned that the proposed low-value health benefits, also reported in the VT Digger, would adversely impact people’s access to care, and lead to a further cost-shift to those who can least afford it. Any health care system that requires individuals to pay up to 20 percent of health care costs out-of-pocket will force people to forgo needed care. Deductibles and co-pays place the burden of paying for our health care system on sick people, pushing patients into debt. When combined with a private fee or premium, 20 percent cost-sharing constitutes an unprecedented and unconscionable cost-shift to patients, workers, and all low- and middle- income Vermont residents.

The people of Vermont desperately need a universal, publicly financed health care system that enables everyone to get the care they need and contribute what they can. Such a system can only work if it is financed publicly and equitably, and if it provides all needed care, without cost barriers. The Health Care Is a Human Right Campaign urges the governor to put forward proposals that meet the human rights principles in Vermont law.  We represent thousands of Vermont residents, and we are ready to fight for a plan that is universal, equitable and works for all people.”

Keith Brunner, Vermont Workers’ Center

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