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More Cases Of Serious Illness Cause VSEA Health Costs To Skyrocket

Vermont’s state employees are going to be hit with a nearly 18 percent increase in their health care premiums. The increase is taking place because more state employees than projected were treated last year for cancer and heart disease. The increase came as a shock because the VSEA plan had no increases in the past two years.  

Human Resources Commissioner MaribethSpellman says the increase is directly related to much higher than expected use of expensive health care services.

In each of the past two years, Spellman says there were roughly 80 cases of so called “high dollar” claims – these are claims in excess of $75,000. This year, there were 141 cases.

“That kind of spike would not be anticipated,” said Spellman. “And we’re seeing a higher trend for 2014 as well, although not as quite as high as 2013.”

Spellman says it’s very difficult to know if this trend is going to continue.

"There was definitely a jump in cancer claims as well as heart disease." - Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman what caused the nearly 18 percent spike in VSEA health care premiums

“There was definitely a jump in cancer claims as well as heart disease,” said Spellman. “Whether or not that’s going to sort of be the trend, the new normal, or it’s sort of an aberration at this point I really don’t know.”

VSEA spokesperson Steve Howard says he’s surprised by the size of the premium increase after the experience of the last two years. And because the union’s health care costs were going down, members also had seven pay periods when they didn’t have to make any premium payments and the state also didn’t have to make its financial contribution.

Howard thinks it makes more sense to put this money into a contingency fund that could be used to offset future increases.

“We prefer a much more conservative path where money can be kept in surplus that would be used to sort of smooth out these problems,” said Howard.

Watching this development very closely is Washington County Senator Anthony Pollina. He’s a strong supporter of the governor’s plan to implement a single payer system. Pollina thinks the VSEA health care program serves as an excellent model for lawmakers to consider.

Pollina says he’s not discouraged by the premium increases and he remains convinced that the VSEA plan is a good proposal to present to the public. 

“Bringing more people into the pool, bringing younger people into the pool, increasing their bargaining  pool. And have them work in conjunction with the Green Mountain Care Board and other reforms still point to the VSEA health care program as the model we should be looking at," he said.

Pollina says that while a 17.9 percent increase is troubling, he says it becomes more reasonable when considered over a three-year period.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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