Legislative Update 2/1/21

by Devon Green
VAHHS Vice Preident of Governmental Relations
Legislators! They’re just like us! And, just like us, they are deeply tired of saying things like “you’re on mute” over Zoom. We all continue to struggle with the extra steps it takes to do things from a distance, so it comes as a relief that the Governor’s budget address last Tuesday set the agenda for the session as spending the infusion of one-time federal funding to the state, increasing its revenues to $116 million as opposed to the agonizing cuts we were all anticipating a few months ago. 
Part of the governor’s proposal included a $1.25 million tax incentive for nurses which would provide a 100% waiver of income tax in the first year, a 70% waiver of income tax in year two, and a 50% waiver of income tax in year three.
VAHHS has been beating the health care workforce drum for several years. Hospitals all stepped up and met the needs of our community, but as we continue with COVID and look towards its aftermath, as well as the realities of an aging population, we urge legislators to consider the following health care workforce development tools to keep our health care system strong:
  • Tax incentives for nurses
  • Passing the interstate nurse licensure compact
  • Making permanent and expanding the nurse and physician scholarships passed in Act 155 of 2020
  • Extending reimbursement for audio-only telehealth
  • Adjusting the benefit cliff for income-eligible workers
Last Week
Prohibiting firearms in hospitals: VAHHS testified in favor of S.30, which would prohibit firearms in hospitals, government buildings and child care centers. The Senate Judiciary Committee seemed skeptical about limiting a constitutional right and creating more criminal liability. The committee is interested in using the current trespass laws rather than a flat prohibition. VAHHS testified that hospitals, like schools, are uniquely situated and would benefit from a prohibition because security is often already present and hospitals are buildings filled with highly vulnerable individuals. On Friday, Dr. Ryan Sexton, Medical Director of Emergency Operations at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital also testified in favor of S.30 on behalf of the Vermont Medical Society.
Audio-only telehealth reimbursement: The House Health Care Committee heard testimony from the Department of Financial Regulation and both providers and insurers about coverage and reimbursement of audio-only telehealth in the same manner as other telehealth and in-person visits through 2023. Providers have found audio-only a valuable tool, especially in treatment of mental health services and would like to continue providing greater access to care through audio-only telehealth until a viable value-based reimbursement program is established. For an excellent summary of current reimbursement policy and recommendations prepared by Helen Labun from BiState Primary Care Association, go here.
Hospitals 101: VAHHS provided a brief overview of Vermont’s hospital system to the new members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The presentation can be found here.
Equitable access to vaccines: VDH Deputy Commissioner Tracy Dolan testified in front of the House Health Care Committee on VDH’s plan for Vermont’s BIPOC population to receive the COVID vaccine, including working with trusted partners to perform targeted education and outreach and producing tranlated videos about the process of registering and receiving a vaccine.
This Week
Extension of COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Care Committee will hold a joint hearing to discuss further extending current COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities.
Audio-only telehealth: House Health Care will continue hearing testimony and discussing coverage and reimbursement for audio-only telehealth.