Opinion: Insurance carrier’s rate increase hurts Vermonters

I was struck by the irony of two juxtaposed news stories this week. One story described the impact of our state’s revenue shortfall and the resulting $31 million in budget cuts that will further distress needy Vermonters and impair the capacity of state service agencies to meet the needs of their clients. The other article concerned the request by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont for a 9.8 percent rate increase to its subscribers.
Here is a dramatic illustration of the causes behind the huge gap between the few who are very wealthy and the great many who are economically marginalized.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is ostensibly a “nonprofit” that exists to provide “thousands of Vermonters with health benefits and services.” Let me point out, however, that Blue Cross Blue Shield does not actually perform health care. BCBS does not diagnose and treat people with illnesses or injuries, deliver babies, write prescriptions, perform surgery or carry out any kind of direct health care for the people of Vermont. Yet, for some reason they are involved in our access to health care in a way that does not enhance the delivery of that care, but increases the cost of that care.
In 2012 the compensation for the CEO of BCBS was $587,184. His compensation, combined with the compensation for nine of the other chief officers of this “nonprofit” added up to over $3.6 million that year. Clearly, someone is making a profit, but it is not us Vermonters. When we see that so much of the money that we pay to BCBS goes to executive compensation, it is easy to understand the ever increasing cost of health care in Vermont. Blue Cross Blue Shield does not so much need a rate increase as it needs to examine executive pay and give the rest of us, who do not make a half-million dollars annually, a break.
Imposing a rate increase to further benefit those who are already doing well only perpetuates economic injustice. If there is to be a rate increase, it should be an increase in the state’s tax rate levied on the wealthy: The individuals with large incomes and the companies making large profits need to be asked to step forward and make up the state’s revenue shortage.
And a rate increase needs to come in the form of a livable wage paid to working Vermonters. The current minimum wage and the recently passed increase in the minimum wage are pathetically inadequate to sustain working Vermonters and their families. We need to face up to the economic inequality we have allowed to come about and make the necessary changes. Blue Cross Blue Shield, I believe, can struggle along without a rate increase.
Millard Cox

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