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Draconian cost cutting

A new proposal aimed at reducing the state’s budget would reduce the state cost-sharing contribution which lowers deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket expenses for middle and lower income Vermont residents was announced by the Department of Vermont Health Access.

The proposal specifically targets income-qualified residents who purchase silver level health plans through Vermont Health Connect. Depending on income, cutting the state cost sharing for people could result in deductible’s doubling or quadrupling.

This state cost-sharing benefit helps Vermonters who have household incomes between two and three times the federal poverty level. For a family of four that income range is $49,200 to $73,800. For an individual that means an income of $24,120 to $36,180.

Scott administration officials point out that the proposed cut is the result of pressure to cut the budget and the Department of Vermont Health Access has already reduced its 2019 budget by $22.5 million. The savings from slashing the cost sharing will be $827,175 for six months. This is for a department with a budget of well over $100 million.

The proposal has drawn sharp pushback from the Vermont Office of the Health Care Advocate which released a report this week detailing the ongoing affordability crisis that Vermonters face with health care.

It’s important to take a sharp scalpel to any budget and certainly no aspect of the state budget should be exempt from a deep and critical review. But doubling and quadrupling the deductibles for the 6,000-plus Vermonters in the program is draconian.

Vermont needs a balanced budget and we need to carefully manage the dollars we spend on helping those who are less well off. But we needn’t balance the budgets on the backs of those who need help the most.

Our budget woes are not caused by this cost-sharing program and the relief it provides families and individuals in terms of deductible and maximum out-of-pocket costs for health insurance. This issue is caused by a failed and flawed profit-based health care system that is designed to fail.

Until it is replaced with something more tenable (think Medicare for all), we have some minimum moral obligation to help our fellow citizens manage the burden of these costs.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971