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Donna Novak, founder of NovaRest Actuarial Consulting, testified for the Vermont state Office of the Health Care Advocate, which represents consumers, that Blue Cross could lower its rate increase to zero and still remain solvent.

Novak and six other people testified before the board regarding any rate increases for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont for health plans it offers through Vermont Health Connect, the state insurance exchange set up under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The board is expected to decide by Aug. 13 on Blue Cross rate increase requests averaging 7.2 percent. Company officials agreed to drop to that level from an earlier request averaging 8.6 percent over the various coverage options it offers after actuaries working for the state board went through the company’s numbers and found places to trim them, Blue Cross officials said.

Blue Cross has attributed its need to charge more in 2016 to increases in bills coming from doctors, hospitals and other providers, and reductions in federal support for the reinsurance that chips in to help pay for high-cost patients, said Cory Gustafson, the Blues’ director of government and public relations.

During the hearing, Blue Cross officials defended their proposed higher rates and analysis by actuaries, including Novak. However, NovaRest’s thorough analysis indicates while Blue Cross could lower its rate to zero, Novak doesn’t necessarily recommend that.

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