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Emotions run high at public hearing on proposed insurance rate hikes

(WCAX)
Published: Jul. 23, 2019 at 6:21 PM EDT
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People who get their insurance through Vermont Health Connect could face higher rates.

Blue Cross Blue Shield asked state regulators to approve a 15.6 percent rate hike.

MVP Health Care wants an 8.5 percent increase.

Both companies say they need to pass on the increased cost of medical care and prescription drugs, as well as higher costs for federal law and tax changes.

Premiums have increased steadily each year since Vermont Health Connect was launched six years ago. And under this proposal, the cheapest Blue Cross plan would be $1,593 per month. MVP's lowest-cost plan comes in at $1,316 per month.

The rising costs sparked a protest Tuesday afternoon in Montpelier ahead of a public hearing on the rate hikes. The protesters, who favor getting rid of private insurance, say those rates are not affordable for the tens of thousands of Vermonters who do not have health insurance at work and do not qualify for Medicaid.

The Green Mountain Care Board is taking public comment on the rate hikes Tuesday night. Our Christina Guessferd is covering that story for us at City Hall in Montpelier.

The response there has been emotional. While addressing their concerns with the Green Mountain Care Board, some Vermonters cried, while others expressed outrage.

The board will make the final decision, so they're sitting before the public listening and absorbing comments.

A farmer with Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance was one of the first speakers. He told the board he simply wouldn't be able to afford health care if the company's proposal is approved and said as a farmer, it's imperative that he has it.

Another woman who spoke is a small business owner who recently moved to Vermont with her family. She said she's considering moving back to New Hampshire because of this proposal.

And another young woman who suffers from a chronic illness told WCAX News her inability to work makes it nearly impossible to pay for coverage and she fears the rate hike will send her into massive debt.

"We definitely feel like it's something to take into consideration and we want to listen to, like I said, our customers in all of Vermont. We certainly understand some of their frustrations, but it's more important for us to hear it first-hand," said Sarah Teachout of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont.

MVP representatives were also in the crowd.

Another main concern the public voiced was the timing of Tuesday's public forum. Many said the 4:30 p.m. meeting time prohibited many more from attending because they're working. They asked the board to hold additional public meetings outside of working hours as soon as possible.

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