by Keith Brunner
The Green Mountain Care Board approved 5.9 percent and 2.4 percent average annual rate hikes for 2016 Vermont Health Connect plans from Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP, respectively. While these numbers are lower than the staggering 8.6 percent increase initially proposed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, they represent a failure by the board to fulfil its mission of ensuring rates that are affordable, promote access to health care, and not unjust or inequitable.
In the context of a health insurance system in which low and middle-income people pay disproportionately more of their income for care which often fails to meet their needs, the campaign insists that any increase in rates is both unjust and inequitable. This point was addressed by dissenting Board member Allan Ramsay, who called attention to the 450-plus public comments focusing “on the fact that the rate increases and out-of-pocket costs of Vermont Health Connect are not affordable,” according to page 14: http://ratereview.vermont.gov/sites/dfr/files/GMCB_008_15rr_Decision.pdf
“How many of the 65,000 people covered by Blue Cross in Vermont will get a 6 percent raise next year?” asked Megan Sheehan, co-director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which coordinates the campaign. “The Green Mountain Care Board is condemning thousands of Vermont residents to increased financial hardship, while with Act 48 we have a clear way forward towards a publicly financed healthcare system that would increase equity and dignity,” the author references Act 48 http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/Acts/ACT048.pdf.
Building off of the mandate set out under Act 48, the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign has proposed an equitable model for publicly financing Vermont’s health care system that would expand access to care while lowering healthcare costs for low- and middle-income families. Under this plan, which was introduced in the 2015 legislative session as H.475, Blue Cross Blue Shield would be dissolved and its assets turned over to a new public corporation that can operate healthcare as a public good.
“Last year the Board approved a 7.7 percent rate hike,” said Sheehan. “Unless we move from private, market-based insurance to public financing of universal care, we’re going to face rate hikes like this year after year. It’s time to flip the way we pay for care — with people contributing based on their ability, so that low- and middle-income people pay a smaller share of their income on health care than the wealthy.”