Opinion: Blue Cross request epitomizes broken health care system

This is a letter that I wrote to the Green Mountain Care Board as a follow-up to testimony that I gave at their public hearing on July 29 in Montpelier concerning a request by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont for yet another rate increase.
Green Mountain Care Board: As I said at the hearing, I implore you to deny BC/BS Vermont a rate increase of any amount. First of all, they received a 7.7 percent increase last year, and are requesting a rate increase for this year of 7.2 percent; they clearly are expecting a rate increase each year of about 7.5 percent. Does anyone these days reasonably expect and annual wage or salary increase of 7.5 percent?
Furthermore, BC/BS Vermont makes so much money that it can afford to pay its CEO almost $600,000 per year, and the collective salaries of the top officers of this corporation amount to more than $2 million, placing these individuals in the top 1 percent in Vermont for annual income. In addition, categorizing BC/BS as a “nonprofit” stretches the limits of credulity. This classification enabled them to gain a $15 million tax exemption for 2014. Why, then, would they need a rate increase?
At a time when the state is reducing benefits to the poorest families in Vermont and increasing the tax rate on the income these families do receive, it is entirely inappropriate for BC/BS to make such a request. Poverty is on the rise in Vermont, in spite of the supposed “improvement in the economy,” and the number of children growing up in poverty in Vermont is increasing. The rate increase requested by BC/BS Vermont serves to illustrate the degree to which Blue Cross/Blue Shield Vermont is tone deaf to the situation facing working families in this state. The amount of money BC/BS pays its CEO would support more than 10 working families in Vermont.
The health insurance industry, of which BC/BS is an example, acts as a parasite on the body of medical services in Vermont. Vermonters are expected to pay premiums to insurance companies in order to receive health care services. Yet, these insurance companies do not deliver or perform health care. What, then, do Vermonters receive in return for the money they pay to these insurance companies? They receive health care that is more expensive, less efficient and more bureaucratically complicated than it needs to be because the insurance companies impose themselves on the system, acting as dead weight and adding no value to the quality of care. They are worse than dead weight; they are dead weight to whom we have to pay tribute even as we drag their weight.
What the insurance companies represent to me is a system of extortion, an “offer we can’t refuse” if we wish to receive health care and avoid financial ruin. I find from the media that health care costs in Vermont are increasing at a rate than cannot be sustained. Insurance companies surely are a significant part of that problem, adding, as I have researched, at least 30 percent to the cost of health care.
Why is it that we must continue this system? Am I the only one who sees what a shakedown the insurance companies are committing? Who is going, at long last, to take these companies out of the picture completely and allow the state to set up a sane and humane system of health care delivery that does not add even more stress and despair to the lives of those who are sick or injured, or even worse, have family members who are sick or injured?
Just recently I read about a man who was shot and severely injured outside of his own home. There was no warning or indication of danger — a completely unexpected and largely unexplainable event. Shortly after this incident, I read that the family was appealing for help from the public for funding to provide for the medical care of this individual. It was with shock and disgust that I realized that this family, already overcome with grief, stress and trauma was now burdened with yet another concern: how to pay for the medical needs of the loved one who was critically injured.
How can we continue to allow this situation to exist? Have we no compassion or empathy, or are we a society that values capitalism above all else, and which sees the marketplace as the only approach to meeting human need?
The health insurance companies have to go. There is no place for them in a system which must be primarily concerned with the medical needs of the people above the needs of corporations to remain solvent and pay exorbitant salaries to their officers.
Millard Cox

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