RELEASE: Universal healthcare advocates march on Blue Cross Blue Shield, deliver invoice on Tax Day

For Immediate Release: April 15th, 2015

Contact: Keith Brunner, Vermont Workers’ Center, 802-363-9615

Universal healthcare advocates march on Blue Cross Blue Shield, deliver invoice on Tax Day

**Photos and video available upon request**

Berlin -- Today, two dozen supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign marched on the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield, delivering the company an invoice for $15.7 million in avoided taxes while indicting the market-based healthcare system from which BCBS derives its profits. [1]

Jessica Ruben, a teacher from Hardwick, shared her experience transitioning from VHAP to Vermont Health Connect, stating that her current plan “felt as if [she] didn’t have coverage at all.” On top of the headaches with high copays, Ruben was blindsided after doing her taxes and being told she owed $500 in subsidies, for healthcare coverage which “didn’t pay for anything” in the first place. [2]

She expressed her outrage that Blue Cross Blue Shield is exempt from paying taxes and added, “This is a nightmare and I know that I am not the only one. This system is not working for our communities and we must do better. We need to move beyond all of the complexity and profit of the Affordable Care Act to a universal publicly funded healthcare system.”

Bekah Mandell, a small business owner from Burlington expecting her first child in May, delivered the invoice to BCBS Vice President Kevin Goddard. She pointed out that, “When the Vermont Health Connect website is down for the 5th time in a week, it’s hard to remember that Vermont Health Connect is really just in the business of collecting premiums for BCBS.  Vermont Health Connect got stuck with all the hard work of figuring out complex new systems while Don George and the folks at BCBS just sit back and reap the benefits.”

In 2014, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont paid its seven executives a combined $2.5 million, while CEO Don George walked away with almost $610,000 - over eleven times the real median Vermont household income. [3] Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, of Church of the Good Shepard in Barre, expressed outrage that at the same time people are struggling with healthcare costs and losing jobs and essential services due to revenue shortfalls, BCBS is paying Wall Street salaries and contributing nothing into the state coffers.

Campaign supporters are calling on legislators to move forward with a universal publicly-financed healthcare system and to dissolve BCBS, transferring its assets, liabilities, and obligations to the Green Mountain Care Board as laid out in bill H.475. [4]

“We want a world without corporations profiting off our health,” said Mandell, “and we’ll be in the streets of Montpelier continuing to build a movement for healthcare justice on May 1st, International Workers Day, for an enormous march and rally.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1] Due to BCBSVT’s designation as a non-profit medical service organization, it is exempt from paying taxes under state law - with the Joint Fiscal Office projecting a $15.7 million exemption for FY 2016.  See §4590 and Vermont Tax Expenditures 2015 Biennial Report: http://bit.ly/1HoEPhx.

Last month the state of California revoked BCBS’s tax exemption amidst criticism over rate hikes, executive pay, and billions in financial reserves. Link: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-blue-shield-california-20150318-story.html#page=1

2] VWC organizers have spoken with many Vermont residents who’ve called our Healthcare Call Line facing either tax penalties for failing to sign up for the exchange, or for miscalculating their income and being forced to pay back subsidies. Nationally, Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 54% of those who qualified for exchange subsidies will owe money back at filing time, with an average repayment of almost $794. Link: http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/repayments-and-refunds-estimating-the-effects-of-2014-premium-tax-credit-reconciliation/

3] BCBS 2014 salaries and bonuses: http://www.dfr.vermont.gov/sites/default/files/BCBSVT-Act-150-filing.pdf

VT real median household income 2013: http://www.deptofnumbers.com/income/vermont/

4] See H475: “An act relating to establishing the financing mechanisms for Green Mountain Care.” Link: http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2016/H.475

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