Guest editorial: Health insurance rates could skyrocket

I recently spent some time asking people on the street two questions: Is health insurance too expensive? And if so, why? I am sure many readers have strong opinions about the answers to these questions.
I heard answers like “greed,” “because they can,” “because there is no incentive to cut costs” and “because we have to pay the doctors.”
No one told me that they thought commercial health insurance was affordable.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has proposed to raise rates by 15.6 percent and MVP Healthcare has proposed an 8.5 percent increase for next year in the individual and small group market.
We all know that there are real problems with our current health care financing system.
When this system results in a hospital at risk of going bankrupt, regulators and policymakers jump into action to avoid the potentially disastrous outcome of a part of our state without a hospital within a reasonable distance.
But when a sizable portion of Vermonters can’t afford to get the care they need, those same regulators and policymakers never see the crisis. They don’t see it because it plays out privately in families’ homes, at the doctor’s office, and in the workplace.
When Vermonters need care, they often find themselves making financial decisions instead of health care decisions. In 2018, 43 percent of Vermonters were recognized as uninsured or underinsured on a commercial health insurance plan (2018 Household Health Insurance Survey). In stark contrast to the risk of a hospital closure, this rationing of care is invisible to the regulator or policy maker.
As Vermont’s health care advocate, it is my job to bring the reality that many Vermonters face to the table when the Green Mountain Care Board considers rate increases proposed by insurance companies.
I need your help. There is nothing more compelling than real Vermonters telling their stories about what these proposed rates, on top of ballooning out-of-pocket health care costs, would mean for families and small businesses.
If you get your health insurance from your small employer (or your spouse’s small employer) or you buy a plan directly through Vermont Health Connect, the Green Mountain Care Board needs to hear from you.
The board has the difficult job of weighing the insurers’ arguments in favor of these rate increases against the concerns Vermonters have about affordability and access to care. The board will spend two days listening to arguments supporting these rates from insurance executives. Make sure the board hears from you too.
Learn more and submit your public comment at www.bit.ly/SubmitAPublicComment or join the public hearing on Tuesday, July 23, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Montpelier City Hall.
Note: Michael Fisher is the head of the Vermont Office of the Health Care Advocate.

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