Vt. health insurers ask state regulators for rate hikes

Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 5:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 8:21 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont health care regulators are mulling over a proposed rate hike which could raise health insurance premiums for the state’s largest carrier. In a year that has thrown the predictability of the health care system for a loop, it’s the latest effort by the industry to stabilize costs.

Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP, two of Vermont's largest private health insurance companies, are looking to raise premiums next year, and that has Keith Brunner with the Vermont Workers Center concerned. "Right now, tens of thousands of Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet," he said.

Brunner says he is insured through Medicaid, but used to be on Blue Cross Blue Shield. He's been advocating for a universal Medicaid plan. "The prospect of health insurance premiums going up even more in the middle of a pandemic, a lot of people are finding that outrageous," he said.

As in previous years, the hike is driven by the rising cost of prescription drugs. Blue Cross Blue Shield officials say without a proposed 5% rate increase, it would hamper their ability to serve members. MVP is asking for a 1.6% hike. They say because of medical procedures postponed during the pandemic, there will be a greater demand for health care services in the coming year.

Green Mountain Care Board Chair Kevin Mullin says it’s hard to predict health care costs during a pandemic. “None of us has a true looking glass that tells us what is exactly going to happen,” he said.

State officials are also putting pressure on regulators. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith this week said he’s concerned about the rate hike and hopes regulators will “do the right thing.”

"With the amount of Vermonters who have been laid off, or without a job and those who are also struggling because of reduced salaries, should not have to endure a rate increase," Smith said.

It puts the GMCB in a difficult position. They're required by law to promote affordability for Vermonters, but also make sure insurance companies stay afloat. "It's this tension between those two areas that ultimately the board wrestles and tries tries to take into account all the evidence it has before it," Mulin said. He says the responsibility of bringing down drug prices, one of the main cost drivers, ultimately lies with the federal government.

If approved, Blue Cross premiums would have risen 54 percent since the GMCB was established in 2013.

The board is expected to take action on the proposals the in the next two weeks.

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