Legislative Update 1/27/20

Thank you to all who came out to our A Healthier State House health fair at the State House on Thursday! I had a great time sipping cucumber-infused water and smoothies while munching on pumpkin breakfast cookies and learning about healthy nutritional and lifestyle choices...all while hula hooping. Our hospitals, along with OneCare Vermont and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, did a great job showcasing their health and wellness efforts.

In other parts of the building, the big stuff was moving—minimum wage, paid family leave and the 2021 budget.

Last Week

Governor's Budget Address: The governor’s speech on his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal focused on several important VAHHS health care priorities:

  • Workforce: We were really pleased to see the governor discuss demographics and workforce in his budget address on Thursday. We will be keeping an eye on his proposal to dedicate $1 million to retaining graduates from Vermont’s registered nurse and licensed practical nurse programs here in the state.
  • Health Care Reform: After admitting initial skepticism regarding Vermont’s move to value-based care through OneCare Vermont, the governor touted the model’s early results that reduced the money spent on health care services by $7.7 million. Governor Scott recommended investing $5.7 million for delivery system reforms as long as OneCare meets the same transparency standards as a non-profit.
  • Mental Health: We also appreciated the governor’s efforts to invest in areas along the mental health continuum, such as the Prevention Lifeline Network and a mobile response unit, that would help keep individuals out of emergency departments. VAHHS would like to see the success of these initiatives tied directly to avoiding emergency department visits.

Minimum Wage: The House and the Senate came to an agreement on a minimum wage increase of $1.59 over two years—from the current amount of $10.96 to $11.75 in 2021 to $12.55 by 2022. The House voted on Friday with 93 in support and 54 against the legislation. The bill will then head over to the Senate, where it is slated to pass, and on to the governor’s desk.

Paid Family & Medical Leave: The Paid Family and Medical Leave proposal passed out of the house by 89 votes. The proposal creates a mandatory 12-week paid family leave program funded by a .2 percent payroll tax and a voluntary medical leave benefit funded by a .38 percent payroll tax. Next stop for the bill is the governor’s desk and a likely veto. It remains to be seen whether the House can drum up the 100 votes needed to override a veto.

Prescription Drug Costs: The House Health Care Committee heard Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont present on the rising costs of prescription drugs and heard an update on Vermont’s plans for prescription drug reimportation, as well as proposals giving the Green Mountain Care Board the authority to set an upper payment limit on prescription drugs and limits to out-of-pocket costs for insulin. The committee will be looking at any and all proposals looking to curb the rising costs of prescription drugs as they make this issue one of their priorities.

Flavored Tobacco Ban: The Senate Health and Welfare committee heard testimony on banning all flavors, including menthol, in tobacco products. Witnesses testified that flavored tobacco targets children and that the tobacco industry has historically targeted menthol toward the African American communities with more advertising and lower prices.

Next Week

Telemedicine: The House Health Care committee will dive into telemedicine legislation and look at H.723 which expands the use of store-and-forward telemedicine and e-consults.

Physician Assistant (PA) Licensure: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will continue hearing testimony on reducing supervisory oversight of PAs and replacing the current model with practice agreements.