Legislative Update 1/20/20

Good morning! The productive pace of the legislature continues. On Friday, the senate passed paid family and medical leave. Meanwhile, the health care committees started digging in on a variety of important issues, from workforce development to OneCare to the Brattleboro Retreat.

On the elections front, Senator Debbie Ingram (D) has joined the race for lieutenant governor in addition to Molly Gray (D), Meg Hansen (R), and President Pro Tem of the Senate Tim Ashe (P).

Last Week

Workforce shortage solutions: The Rural Health Services Task Force and primary care providers testified at the House Health Care and Senate Health and Welfare committees regarding workforce shortages in Vermont and possible solutions. The Rural Health Services Task Force presented the workforce shortage across the health care continuum, highlighting that health care is unique among other workforce sectors in that it heavily relies on people taking care of people rather than automation. The Rural Health Service Task Force made recommendations around changes in licensure, increased funding for loan repayment and adoption of a tax credit program. 

For the Green Mountain Care Board meeting this week, primary care providers and representatives from AHEC, Senator Sanders's Office, the Vermont Medical Society, UVM Larner College of Medicine, Bi-State Primary Care and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth presented challenges and possible solutions to the Green Mountain Care Board. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave: The proposal passed by the Senate on Friday creates a mandatory 12-week paid family leave program funded by a .2% payroll tax, and a voluntary medical leave benefit funded by a .38% payroll tax. Both taxes would be paid by employees, but employers would have the option to pay contributions on their employees’ behalf. Employers can also opt out of the program if they provide similar benefits. This latest proposal will be voted on by the House this week, and if passed, will go to the governor’s desk.

Green Mountain Care Board Analysis of Brattleboro Retreat Finances: The Green Mountain Care Board presented its analysis of the Brattleboro Retreat’s audited financial statements to the House Health Care committee. The analysis confirms that the Brattleboro Retreat is facing significant financial challenges, including operating revenues outpacing financial losses, increases in uncollectable accounts and an aging campus. The Green Mountain Care Board was optimistic that the Brattleboro Retreat and the Agency of Human Services would be able to work out a path forward.

Brattleboro Retreat Inpatient Bed Expansion: The Agency of Human Services and the Brattleboro Retreat provided an update to the House Institutions committee this week on the construction of 12 adult psychiatric beds at Brattleboro Retreat for the highest-acuity adult patients, also known as “Level 1” patients. Brattleboro Retreat indicated they are on time and on budget to complete construction. Committee members expressed interest in understanding whether the state had the appropriate number of beds for high-acuity adult patients and whether the complement of bed types was appropriate to meet the needs of people waiting in emergency rooms to access mental health care.

OneCare: OneCare presented to a joint committee consisting of Senate Health and Welfare and House Health Care. Members were very interested in understanding the finances, challenges and utility of OneCare in health care reform. OneCare highlighted that hospitals are major supporters of Vermont’s health care and delivery system reform.

This Week

2021 Budget: On Tuesday, the governor will give his budget address and release the fiscal year 2021 budget. Knowing the particulars of the budget will help set the tone for the rest of the session on issues of mental health, health care reform and rural hospital sustainability.
Prescription Drugs: The House Health Care committee will be hearing about the rising costs of prescription drugs and the pressure these costs put on Vermont’s health care system.
Flavored Tobacco Products Ban: Senate Health and Welfare will be hearing about S.288, a bill that bans flavored tobacco products and e-liquids.