Legislative Update: February 22, 2021

by Devon Green
VAHHS Vice President of Government Relations
COVID-19 continues to double the fun of the legislative process, and the budget is no exception. In addition to the to the regular FY 2022 budget, legislators are also considering a fast-track budget comprised of one-time funds to address immediate needs related to COVID-19 and to jumpstart projects that are ready to go. Within this bill, the House Health Care Committee recommended $10.5 million to expand the health care workforce, respond to urgent mental health needs, and address health care disparities. The House Health Care Committee recommendations break down to the following:
Workforce—$5 million
  • $3 million over three years for the nursing and primary care scholarship program, a legislative priority for VAHHS
  • $2 million to bring Vermont Technical College’s LPN program to skilled nursing facilities to train current employees
Mental health needs—$5 million
  • $5 million to the Department of Mental Health to distribute for organizations providing housing supports in community settings
  • $850,000 in urgent case management at designated agencies and specialized services agencies
  • $150,000 for training of front-line health care workers
Health care disparities—$500,000
  • $66,000 to the Green Mountain Care Board to make payer reporting of race and ethnicity data possible in the all-payer claims database
  • $134,000 for other demographic data reporting
  • $300,000 to the Department of Mental Health for grants to peer-led organizations and organizations supporting the needs of LGBTQ youths to address COVID-19- related needs. 
The House Health Care committee recommended that anything not included from this list in the fast track COVID-19 budget bill should be included in the regular FY ‘22 budget.

Last Week

Nurse Tax Incentives: The House Ways and Means Committee was skeptical of the Administration’s proposal to provide three years of graduated state income tax exemption to recent graduates of nurse education programs. The program would provide 100 percent state income tax exemption in the first year after graduation, 70 percent the second year, and 50 percent the third year. The committee is not convinced that such a tax exemption would incentivize individuals to enter nursing programs, but the committee may entertain other proposals such as tax credits instead of a tax exemption.
Audio-only telehealth: Testimony from Bi-State Primary Care supported the current proposal to continue covering and reimbursing audio-only telehealth to ensure access to patients who currently rely on audio-only care that is the same as an in-person visit while also maintaining “triage calls” that are reimbursed at a lesser amount. As with current treatment, health care providers are held to the same standard of care under audio-only, so patients are not in danger of receiving lesser quality care. 

This Week

Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee may vote this bill out of committee. 
Addressing disparities and promoting equity in the health care system: The House Health Care committee will be hearing testimony from Xusana Davis, Executive Director of Racial Equity and Maria Mercedes Avila, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Vermont, and the keynote speaker at VAHHS’s 2020 Annual Meeting.
Extending COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will review the bill and decide whether to include continued coverage and reimbursement for audio-only telehealth.