Legislative Update 1.24.22
Devon Green, VP Government Relations
Like most other states, Vermont is experiencing a severe and growing blood shortage. Please visit redcrossblood.org to find blood drives in your area and donate if you can!
On the legislative front… The House went hybrid last week. Even though witnesses remain remote, it was oddly comforting to see those tiny committee rooms on YouTube. I don’t know if we’ll ever want to cram into those spaces in the same way again, but I hope the legislature maintains some COVID practices, like allowing an emergency department physician from Brattleboro to testify over Zoom.
Governor Scott also unveiled his FY 2023 budget with a focus on one-time funding as a lasting investment in areas like broadband, housing and workforce. While the governor and the legislature seem aligned on these broad goals for Vermont, we will have to see what emerges as they dig into the details in the upcoming weeks.
Workforce: Governor Scott unveiled his FY 2023 budget last Tuesday. He proposed broad workforce, housing, and child care investments.
- Direct assistance to health care workers
- $10 million in tuition assistance for those working towards a career in nursing or jobs in some trades.
- $1,000 tax credit for nurses, including RNs, LNAs, LPNs and APRNs
- $15 million to stand up a program that encourages the construction of homes for middle-income Vermonters.
- $70 million for mixed-income housing to help middle-income families and more vulnerable populations.
- Child Care
- Tax credit for childcare workers
- $12 million to expand access to affordable and high-quality childcare, with changes to the Child Care Financial Assistance Programs
The House passed the FY 2022 Budget Adjustment Act last week, including:
- $25 million in one-time funds to pay traveler contracts and other costs for keeping skilled nursing facility beds and ICU units open, as well as additional unforeseen emergency-related costs.
- $60 million in worker retention funding for long term care facilities, home health agencies, designated agencies, substance use treatment providers and recovery centers. These services are essential to ensure hospital capacity.
Regulatory Flexibilities: House Health Care voted out of committee H.654, an extension of many of the current COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities, including licensure flexibilities, until March 31, 2023. This provides much-needed predictability for hospitals as we continue to manage COVID and the workforce crisis.
The committee also reinstated flexibilities for the Green Mountain Care Board around Certificates of Need, the hospital budget process, insurance rate review, and the ACO budget process. Included in that provision is new language requiring the Green Mountain Care Board to consider extraordinary labor costs for the FY 2022 and FY 2023 hospital budgets and the impact of those costs on affordability.
We thank the committee for their fast work on this important issue.
- The Department of Mental Health updated the House Corrections and Institutions Committee with its Forensic Working Group Preliminary Report. The group has identified two major areas to address going forward: diversion programs and restoration of competency/forensic facilities. VAHHS has advocated for the end of the judiciary returning patients who have assaulted health care workers to the same emergency department where the assault occurred.
- FY 2023 Budget
- $2 million to add four communities to the mobile mental health response pilot in Rutland, which helps people when and where they are in crisis.
- Addition of nearly $1 million to the Suicide Prevention program.
- Funding for mental health professionals in all State Police barracks.
Affordability: Consultants from Health System Transformation presented their report, Improving Affordability and Accessibility by Reducing Health Care Costs for Consumers and Businesses in Vermont, to the House and Senate health care committees. The major recommendations include establishing a cost growth benchmark linked to the consumer price index, extending the moderate needs group in Choices for Care, establishing a public option, and expanding the Blueprint for Health. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee was not inclined to pursue options that cut reimbursement to health care organizations. The committee showed interest in extending the moderate needs group, but will continue to discuss and take testimony.
Next Blog Post
Most of my recent columns have been about COVID, which makes sense given it has been such a dominant feature of our lives for two plus years now. Today, I write about another deeply concerning, but really important, issue: the Green Mountain Care Board and its role in our health care system.