United Against the Rate Hikes!

July 20th & 21st, MVP Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont testified in front of the Green Mountain Care Board about their proposed health insurance rate hikes of up to 10% (BCBS) and 13% (MVP) for next year’s Vermont Health Connect plans. But company lawyers weren’t the only ones VWC President Ellen Schwartz testifying at the Green Mountain Care Board- Click for videotestifying.

“People cannot afford health care as it is, and you want to increase it. What are they going to give up? Food? Clothes?” said Dottye Ricks to the Board, noting that hospital profits have tripled in the past ten years, while healthcare costs for poor and working families have continued to rise.

Over ninety people have so far submitted public comment to the board, highlighting the ways that high healthcare costs create barriers to needed care, with many calling for Vermont to get back on track towards healthcare as a public good. Read some of their stories below:

“I am switching to Green Mountain Care this fall after my benefits associated with my job end due to going to part time status after having a baby. With less income and a new dependent, I am afraid a hike in health insurance rates will make being insured unaffordable for my family. I am also afraid that in order to have an affordable plan, I'd have to select a plan that does not offer much coverage with a high deductible- catastrophic insurance- rather than a plan I'd use regularly to maintain our health with doctor visits when needed.” -Rachel Rose, Jeffersonville

“My ability to afford doctor's visits and prescription medication is invaluable. I feel imprisoned when despite having insurance, I cannot afford premiums and co-pays. I have watched my elderly parents quality of life suffer immensely and seen their significant sacrifices in their ability to work less as they age. My dad is a primary caregiver to my mom, and has continued to work at his job through his late 70s in order to pay health insurance fees.” -Eli Mutino, Cabot

“My husband and I are of retirement age, but we are NOT retired. We cannot afford to. If our health insurance premiums went up, we would probably have to sell our house and move into something smaller and less expensive to maintain. We both have chronic conditions that require regular visits to doctors. My husband has a heart condition that requires monitoring.” -Margaret Gilmore, East Thetford

“I've worked in tech for years and I still find it prohibitively expensive to get insurance as an independent contractor. This is out of control. Please do something.” -Steven Dee, Johnson

“Every time insurance rates increase, my family is forced to make decisions about whether to continue to pay for health insurance, whether to pay utility bills, and if we can afford the groceries and gas money and car insurance and gas, or to make home repairs. This is an embarrassing and unsustainable state of affairs. This is not the type of decision any family should be forced to make. Incidentally, both adults in our household hold higher education degrees and work for the greater good of our community and world. Healthcare needs to, and can be be affordable. We have had to go without needed medical attention in the past because of the lack of health insurance coverage. Many of us put our mental health at risk because of lack of access to care. This is an untenable situation in our country. Many, many hard working families are one health crisis away from financial ruin and poverty. We can do better.” - Emily Dwyer, Barre

“I was a Vermont Health Connect telephonic customer support representative for 18 months. I know that when families choose a plan with an affordable monthly premium it is often useless to them because they can't afford the deductibles and copayments. It was heartbreaking at times listening to their frustration and desperation. I can only imagine how many more will be in this position of rates are increased.” - Frances Young, Burlington

“Our family spends nearly 20% of or income on health insurance. We cannot save money or invest in long term planning or retirement. Health insurance should not put people in debt.” -Katyln Morris, Burlington

“I'm writing to the Green Mountain Care Board about the insurance company rate increases. I'm a kitchen manager for 9 hours a week and I do home improvements on the side in order to pay my rent, electric bill, heat and provide food for myself and my daughter. Right I now I qualify for medicaid. I have aspirations to expand my business and make more money. I was recently told that I now might not qualify for medicaid anymore. I looked into what it would cost to go on Vermont Health Connect and the amount I would have to pay would be impossible for me. Now I understand Blue Cross and Blue Shield and MVP are requesting rate increases of up to 8%. How are people going to afford that? Is anything going to ensure I'm going to make more money next year to cover the cost? These insurance companies increase rates each year, but working people like me don't make more . Quality health insurance is important to me because of my work as a self-employed carpenter. Hospital bills are the biggest thing that has affected my credit. I worry that if I got hurt and had a big co-pay or deductible that it would get even worse. I shouldn't be in a situation where I'm afraid to make more money because it will actually end up being less money because of how high the health insurance costs are. I really believe universal healthcare is the ideal solution for everyone. We need to wipe these for profit insurance companies out of the system. The Green Mountain Care Board, if it has any interest in the people of Vermont will deny these rate increases and promptly advance a universal publicly financed healthcare system as soon possible.” - Robert Miller, Middlebury

“As a 17 year old who is almost 18 I have had the privilege of being on Doctor Dynosaur and having all of my needs financially covered. I have had to watch my parents stress over the rising cost of everything except their paycheck and can't help but wonder when these stresses will be passed on to me and my generation. I think it is an unfair request to ask people to continue to pay more and more into benefits that they may never see, meanwhile depleting from their savings and making life harder than it should be. Please reconsider your 8% raise. Families are already having difficulty paying.” -Tatum MacBride, Winooski

“Working as a rehab nurse, time and again I have seen people come in recovering from a CVA/TIA (stroke) and have lost vision, lost movement and sensation in half of their body. They have to relearn how to do their entire lives. When I ask them about how they controlled their hypertension or even diabetes-II before their stroke, I cannot say how often they had not been treating their hypertension or type two diabetes because they couldn't afford a doctor's visit or the prescription medication and glucometers they needed to manage their chronic condition. Had they only had an affordable primary care and prescription medication option it would have saved the state and insurance company money, instead of the thousands and thousands of dollars in hospital/rehab and home health care which will potentially send them into a medical bankruptcy. I'm hoping people see the light regarding the healthcare dollars that can be saved with affordable primary/preventative care keeping less people out of hospitals, rehab, and home health. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce, which ultimately benefits all of us.” - Caitlin Gray, Burlington

“My son, 26, with multiple sclerosis, pays 25% of his income for insurance even though he is only able to work part time (3.5 hours per day). His medications are tens of thousands of dollars annually and those are essential in order for him to work and not become more disabled. Basically he is working for insurance - with his take home pay about $125 per week. At 26 that means he is facing a life of disease and poverty. He makes about $50 per month too much to qualify for SSI or assistance. Any increase in premiums would be a severe hardship and contribute to his stress and frustration. He is not on Vermont health connect but this applies to any insurance he may have as years go on. Insurance companies are already some of the wealthiest in the world and don't need more profit on the backs of poor people with disabilities.” -Margaret Gilman, Burlington

“This is disgusting! I went from paying $75 a month for both mine and my son's insurance (with NO co-pays) to over $400 a month with co-pays and a huge deductible as a self-employed single mother! This is unaffordable!! And, yet, the greed of BCBS continues!” -Ariel Nelson, Brattleboro

“My name is Daryl and I live in Brattleboro,VT. I teach piano, work at Burger King and am hoping to start a an after school program for kids who want to learn music and art. I have lived with a self diagnosed pelvic hernia since 2008. I wear glasses for my acute astigmatism. Because of my artistic pursuits, I have found myself working in the service industry to pay rent and enjoy life in this beautiful state. I make about $300/wk . My rent is $600. I can not afford to pay more than $50-100/mo for quality healthcare. Even that amount is exorbitant considering I have , in 38 years needed to goto the hospital 2 times. I currently am walking a tight-rope of no insurance. I understand company overhead. But looking at the numbers available to the public, these companies are doing well and there are people still feeling underserved. Any increase without change in quality of care would be wrong. A plain increase seems mean and inconsiderate of the millions of complicated lives that are made more complicated because of the hoops people have to jump through just to be healthy. HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT! PLEASE DO NOT RAISE THE RATES. I can't afford the level they are at !!” -Daryl McElveen, Brattleboro

“I am a teacher at alternative school for students struggling in the Brattleboro school district. My employer is a private organization and does not offer health insurance, therefore I was required to purchase insurance through Vermont Health Connect. I live with my wife of ten years in rented accommodation in downtown Brattleboro and earn $40,000 each year (my wife earns a little less than that). Each month I take home $2536 (split over two pay periods). Due to our household income I am ineligible for any subsidy to help with healthcare costs. When choosing a health insurance plan I was presented with a very difficult decision. Did I want to choose a plan that I could actually use or did I want to choose a plan that I could more easily (but not much more!) afford? The 'silver' plan (which seems to be the default plan) would have cost me $484 each month, however if I chose that plan I would have to contend with a $2000 deductible and a potential total yearly cost of $11,408 (premiums plus maximum out-of-pocket). I do not have $2000 lying around looking for something to do! Therefore I could not afford to actually turn my health insurance plan into health CARE. At the other end of the spectrum (and for less than $200 more) is the 'platinum' plan. It would cost me $656 each month, but in the event of my needing to turn my insurance into care I might actually be able to do so. The deductible is a more manageable $150 and the worst case scenario costs would amount to $9,122 over the year. I chose this plan and have been able to use my healthcare this year to attend to some ongoing issues and feel secure knowing that my health needs will be taken care of. Healthcare costs each month take up the largest percentage of my income (more than rent, food or transport) and an increase of 8% would cause significant stress to our budget, quality of life and therefore also our ability to remain healthy. I would be surprised to learn of many people who buy their health insurance through Vermont Health Connect who received a pay increase this year of 8% (mine was around 2.5%). I ask that the Green Mountain Care Board work for the people of Vermont, rather than the health insurance companies, in denying the proposed rate increases. I also ask that the GMCB consider whether our current system provides access to health care, or merely health insurance. Thank you for your time.” -Daniel Quipp, Brattleboro

“My name is Phoebe. I have been a Westminster, Vermont resident and homeowner for almost 12 years. My two children were born in Vermont and have fortunately been on Dr. Dynasaur their entire lives. For myself, I was insured through VHAP some years ago and now as a single mother putting myself through graduate school I am currently insured through Medicaid. However, as I finish my last semester of grad school and prepare to go back into the workforce most likely our health insurance coverage will change. The reason I went back to school for a higher degree is to give me leverage in the work force. I want to be able to support my children and follow my passions, but even with a grad degree will I be able to do this if I am paying more than I can afford for health care? What then is the motivation for people like me to try to better themselves and get off public assistance if I am still barely making ends meet after I pay for asthma medication for my child and myself? What is the Green Mountain Care Board doing to ensure that the health insurance companies that serve Vermont are really serving public needs and not just their own corporate wealth?” -Phoebe Gooding, Putney

“We are senior citizens living on a fixed income. Our social security income does not increase enough to offset any health insurance cost increase. As a retired teacher, Vermont pension is slowly lessening as the health insurance fees rise. Meanwhile daily living expenses increase. We were so hoping Vermont would lead ou nation in recognizing a new health care single payer system that would treat heath care as a right of its citizens rather than a for profit business for health insurance employees.” -Marlene Wein, Wilmington

“Dear GMCB, I am 61 years old, I live in Brattleboro, and i earn my living as a freelance editor, which i have done for many years. i am dependent on the antidepressant Cymbalta and the anti-herpes medication Valtrex, both of which i could not afford to pay for if i did not have health insurance through the vermont exchange. i qualify for subsidies through the exchange, and every year since it started i have chosen the subsidized plan. i was better off before obamacare because the vermont health care system gave me more affordable and better coverage. Since the switch to obamacare, i have struggled to meet my deductibles. by which i mean, the deductible has forced me to give up some of my income that i could have assigned to maintaining my home or owning a car, neither of which i have been able to do since my healthcare costs were raised by obamacare. in addition, i have had to give up volunteering any of my time at all in my local community, in the governance process of my homeowners association, and in my town's civic activities. Like most low- to moderate-income earners, i operate on a tight budget. i have not taken a vacation in the 20 years i've lived in vermont, and have not felt too bad about that. my earnings have remained flat over the last 20 years. but now that i am 61, i am finding i cannot sustain the number of working hours i have before now. my concentration and energy are diminishing. every hour counts, and that deductible represents a lot of hours. Because of my worsening financial situation, i am now in the process of selling my condo and moving into a trailer park. i do not feel that is a terrible place to live, but what is hard to swallow is that i have not had the resources to maintain the condo adequately so as to sustain its value, and, because i bought it just before the housing bubble burst in 2008, i will have no equity to take away from the sale. i believe the GMCB is very well aware of, and needs to take fully into account, what most middle- and low-income earners are struggling with: flat earnings for decades, rising housing costs, rising energy costs, rising food costs, rising costs of medicine, lack of adequate resources for retirement, and no realistic expectation that any improvement in this situation is coming. in addition, as i am sure the GMCB also well knows, we literally live in fear of another 2008-style financial meltdown, while the lack of regulation of the out-of-control finance industry (not to mention big pharma) and the new upheaval of brexit are far from reassuring. these are outcomes on which our very lives actually depend, and we all know the prospects are not good. I have a chronic illness that was diagnosed in 1994 as CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome), and from which i have largely recovered, but i require expensive foods and supplements to sustain the energy i need to work. it's recommended that i eat only organic food, but i've had to give that up as i can no longer afford it. i put a lot of effort into maintaining my best possible health--with exercise, diet, stress management, and other methods. if i am willing to invest that much in my own health, i would think the society i live in would wish do its part to support my productivity and my ability to serve as a contributing member of the community where i live. I wish i could come to testify at the GMCB hearings in montpelier, but this is just one more action of citizenship that i cannot engage in because i cannot give up a day's earnings to do so. Please make sure that all working vermonters receive health care at the same level of affordability, quality, and accessibility that currently exists. it is not our fault that the arrival of obamacare forced the state to compromise on the crucial issue of providing affordable, decent, accessible health care, and it would be morally wrong, and in the long run highly impractical, if the resultant costs were to be balanced on our backs.” -Martha Ramsey, Brattleboro

“My husband and son have their health insurance with VT Health Connect. The premiums require us to dip into savings to cover them. And we find the coverage minimal. It feels more like catastrophic insurance rather health insurance. They don't feel like they can go to the doctor unless it is close to an emergency. Not really working to help get things addressed early. The current system is not working smoothly. Our premium checks don't get cashed in time for us not to be sent a double fee for the following month, even though we mailed the check on time. No price increases. Fix the system. We believe in single payer health care and want Vermont to get there. Earn back trust.” -Nancy Cressman, Norwich

“I urge you to deny the requested rates hikes by BCBS and MVP which would average 8.2% and 8.8% respectively. Such rate hikes would place additional barriers to access to care for working individuals and families. Very few people (other than wealthy executives) get raises of 8% or more per year.So this would make it more difficult for (so-called) working poor people as well as the shrinking middle class to purchase insurance. And in our country lack or insurance (or a very high deductible) definitely affects one's access to care. In my own case I already avoid dealing with certain problems that could probably be improved through physical therapy. With the "silver" plan that I have, the deductible and co-pay for such therapy are high. If costs went up further and if I had to switch to a "bronze" plan, there would be more things I would avoid caring for until they became major. As I age (close to 60 now) it's increasingly more difficult to just "live with" these health issues. I consider myself fortunate compared to many Vermonters who have lower incomes, and I am very concerned about the hardship these proposed rate hikes would cause them.” -Debra Diegoli, Weathersfield

“Every the increase rate means more money out of each paycheck. I've had to choose between health care and a vehicle. So at any point I will have to drop my health insurance just so the I can afford to live: get to work, buy food and pay bills. I work 2 jobs sometimes 3 which is why I can currently afford health insurance. But I'm not sure I will be able to afford it if it keeps going up. It's the most expensive bill I have besides a mortgage.” -Meg Maguire, South Royalton

“Please fight rate hikes for insurance for Vermonters. As a self employed person, I have insurance which is an extremely high percentage of my income. And to make it affordable I have the highest possible deductible. This means I effectively pay for insurance, but never use it unless catastrophic circumstance occur. To now pay more for an unuseable service feels unfair and unaffordable. Why are the rates so high for Vermonters, while they are lower in other states. Please do everything you can to bring affordable health plans to this state. Thank you.” -Caleb Shepherd, Norwich

“I believe that Health Care is a Human Right. It should be in the public good an not a commodity! Therefore, health care based upon an insurance model will continue to bankrupt us through constant rate hikes, high premiums, and even higher deductibles. People put off going for medical care because in order to afford health care insurance through the Vermont Health Connect we get plans with premiums that are lower and more affordable. Thus, since the deductible is so high before the insurance kicks in, people put off going to the doctor as long as they possibly can to avoid spending their money. In the current economy that we live in since the "crash" most of us do not have disposable income. People are robbing Peter to pay Paul. When we put off our health care needs, diagnosis of conditions are put off into the future and health care conditions that are known go untreated. This is why I do not believe that BC/BS or MVP should get a rate increase”. -Charlie Murphy, Bennington

“On March 30th, 2014, my Step Father died. I was on his Health insurance plan, and two days later, April 1st, I no longer had health insurance. I was going through a terrible period helping my mother and family deal with funeral arrangements, and the rest of the awful business one needs to do when someone dies, and on top of that I needed to find myself insured as soon as possible. The cost then, as is the cost now is wholly affordable, and is detestful that MVP, BCBS, and the GMCB want to continue to raise rates. Currently, I am only able to be insured because I happen to work somewhere that provides it, which is not the case for many people living in the state. That being said, if the exchange plans rates go up, so do all the employer plans, and my work insurances becomes even more unaffordable as well. These Rate hikes are not good for residents, and not good for the state as a whole, and I urge you to stop the hikes and put people first.” -Griffin Shumway, Wilder

“My husband and I are both independently employed and our family of four has had health coverage through Vermont Health Connect since it began offering services. There is some fluctuation in our income year to year but very little. Nonetheless, each year we have had coverage through Vermont Health Connect we have paid our estimated monthly premiums only to find at tax time that there is a substantial payment due. This in addition to hefty out of pocket co-pays. This makes the cost of health insurance almost impossible to budget for. I estimate that we pay in excess of 10% of our annual income in health insurance premiums and co-pays and this is for preventative care - no one has a chronic condition. This is stretching our ability to even have health coverage and very challenging to budget responsibly. Repeated calls to VHC customer service to request an accurate premium projection has been in vain. Any rate hike in premiums will constitute further hardship for us. Please deny the insurers requested rate hikes. We want to remain responsible citizens and provide health insurance for our family but the annual cost is already prohibitive.” -Meg Cottam, Shaftsbury

“My husband and I both have work doing what we love: he works full time at a distillery, I work part time at a nonprofit and have a small sewing business from home. My part time schedule allows us to stay home with our children. Our finances have always been tight, but this year they've become precarious, especially now that we're facing the "benefits cliff" of making too much for Medicaid. Our children will continue to be covered under Dr. Dynasaur, but I fear my husband and I will no longer qualify (we are coming up for renewal soon). The prospect of paying for healthcare, especially with continued rate increases, terrifies me. I have several chronic conditions that require expensive medications: health insurance is not optional for me. The ACA and expanded medicaid felt like a dream come true: I could pursue meaningful work and self employment, and stay home with my kids at a time when my son needed me at home (he also has a chronic condition). Finally I could do more than just do a job and send my entire paycheck to health insurance and childcare. Unfortunately, between my husband's success at his job, my success at my job and my business, and the "benefits cliff," we may be faced with a situation where one of us needs to find a job solely for health insurance or quit our jobs to make less money to go back on Medicaid. That's not how it's supposed to work, is it? Shouldn't the system be making it possible for families like ours to succeed, work for small businesses and nonprofits, and make a living?” -Allyson Wendt, Brattleboro