Seniors face 22 to 33 percent increases for supplemental insurance

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(Host)  Vermont seniors could soon pay steep increases for insurance policies that fill in gaps left by federal Medicare coverage.

About 20,000 Vermonters buy these policies. And one of the major carriers – Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Vermont – has asked the state for rate increases ranging from 22 to 33 percent.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Beverly Bradbury is 80 years old and lives on Social Security. The Plainfield resident says she was stunned to learn about the large rate increase she faces in her Medicare supplemental insurance policy.

(Bradbury) “I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know. But I can’t afford any more.”

(Dillon) Bradbury says she’s already paying about  $160 a month for the coverage. The policy makes up the difference between what Medicare pays and what health care providers charge. Medicare has co-pays and deductibles that have to be paid out of the patient’s pocket.

(Bradbury)  “I haven’t objected to paying for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield. My husband always had it. And we’ve had it and it really does us good, it pays those bills.”

(Dillon) Blue Cross-Blue Shield has filed for rate increases ranging from 22 to 33 percent for its these policies. Another major carrier, United Health Care, has asked for a 9 percent increase.

Michael Sirotkin represents the Community of Vermont Elders. The group has intervened in the Blue Cross case now before state regulators.

(Sirotkin) “It’s going to cause a lot of hardship to a lot of people. The typical Blue Cross policy holder is going to have to come up with something like $300-$400 more a year and a lot of these folks are on fixed incomes.”

(Dillon) Blue Cross Vice President Kevin Goddard says the company needs the rate increase to cover claims it expects to pay out next year.

(Goddard) “If we don’t collect sufficient funds to pay for the claims then we don’t have a viable program to offer folks. And then, of course, they’re exposed to much higher costs, the actual costs of the care, as opposed to the cost of an insurance policy spread out over a broader population. So the premium projections are really based on the need to collect sufficient revenues in order to offset the medical costs of the population.”

(Dillon) The state has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the Blue Cross rate request.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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