Proposed health insurance rate hikes spark criticism at hearing

Local News

MONTPELIER – Two of Vermont’s largest health insurers are looking to significantly increase their rates next year, and dozens of people attended a hearing on the proposed hikes to voice their opposition.

“I can’t afford the treatment that literally keeps me functioning,” said Madeline Walker, who lives with a chronic illness. “The fact that I can’t function to go to work to make money for those treatments means it’s just this cycle where I’m not being taken care of.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is requesting a 15.6 percent increase, while MVP Health Care is asking for 8.5 percent. The rate hikes are nothing new to Vermonters and the dozens of protestors outside – since 2014, health insurance premiums for BCBS of Vermont on VT Health Connect have risen 40 percent.

“This thing never ends, I’ve been doing this for over a decade,” said Keith Ballek. “Every time it seems like we take a couple steps forward, we take steps back. The only way to get out of it is to stay healthy and don’t get sick.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont’s requested increase nearly doubles the 7.5 percent the insurer asked for last year. Sara Teachout, director of government relations for BCBS of Vermont, cited rising prescription drug costs.

“Specifically, it’s specialty drugs, those are drugs that treat rare conditions or cancer that are administered in a hospital or outpatient setting,” Teachout said. “I believe the average price increase of specialty drugs was over fifteen percent.”

But people at the hearing, many of them part of the Vermont Workers Center, put the blame right back on the insurance companies.

“We are in danger of losing rural hospitals, we are losing primary care providers in some locations, and independent practices have all but vanished,” said Ethan Park. “The reason for our high commercial insurance rates is not the aging population or the cost shift.”

The Green Mountain Care Board is taking comments on the proposed hikes until Wednesday. They’re expected to make a decision by August 8.

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