Legislative Update 1-18-21: Committees Lay Out Priorities

Just like there’s no such thing as being a little bit pregnant, there’s no such thing as being partially involved with the legislature. I normally love the immersive experience of the legislature because it is filled with interesting issues and debates; but for the first time in many years, I’m unable to dive into this initial full week of the session.  

Our hospitals are performing the most important public health effort of our lifetimes by administering COVID vaccines right now, and any other issue pales in comparison. I want to take a moment to personally thank a workforce that is already stretched to the brink for digging even deeper to stand up clinics while still providing the same great care to their communities. This effort isn’t just a few providers putting needles into arms; hospitals are storing the vaccine, preparing the doses, setting up sites that are safe, scheduling appointments, answering phone calls and a million other thorny logistical issues. Our hospitals, along with the pharmacies under the federal program, have put Vermont near the top of the list for vaccination rates, which is not only laudable, but lifesaving.  

And with that, back to our regularly scheduled program of legislative happenings. 

This week was the first full week of the legislature, which means a lot of updates. We’re also getting a sense of committee priorities. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee, House Health Care Committee and House Human Services Committee held a joint hearing where they discussed their priorities, including:

  • Updating emergency legislation passed in 2020
  • Vaccine protocols and schedules
  • Planning for health emergencies
  • Childcare
  • Food security
  • Health care workforce and passage of the Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact
  • Mental health and substance use prevention
  • Health care reform
  • Broadband deployment for telehealth and telemedicine 

Health Care Provider Stabilization Grant Update: The Agency of Human Services provided a detailed overview on the Health Care Provider Stabilization Grant Program. The committees heard about opportunities going forward, including telehealth and continued flexibility in funding and payment reform.

All Payer Model Update: The House Human Services Committee heard from Secretary Mike Smith regarding their report and proposed re-boot of the All-Payer Model presented to the Green Mountain Care Board in the fall. Secretary Smith testified that in order to meet targets set out in the agreement with the federal government, there are four main areas that need to be evaluated:

  • What does the federal government need to do to make the model successful? For example, should Medicare be made a truly prospective payment system? 
  • What does AHS need to do to make it successful? Smith indicated that all programs needed to row in the same direction and be aligned. 
  • What does the accountable care organization (ACO) need to do? The report had several recommendations for OneCare Vermont. 
  • What does the Green Mountain Care Board need to do? The report had several recommendations for the Board. 

Smith indicated that the pandemic had strengthened the Administration’s commitment to move from fee-for-service to value-based care.

Review of Public Health Emergency Authority: Legislative council (the committee’s lawyer) presented an overview of the public health emergency authority in Vermont to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.  The committee looked at proposed language for a task force to develop a strategic plan for future statewide health care committees, but ultimately decided to work on other priorities before taking the issue up again.