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Legislative Update 3-4-19

March 03, 2019

Last Week

Tobacco 21: The Tobacco 21 bill, which would ban use of tobacco products by those under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes, passed the Senate easily.  It will now make its way to the House.  This important initiative has a lot of momentum, and we are hopeful that the House will pass it quickly.  If you see your senator out and about during Town Meeting Week, please extend a warm thank you for their support.

Health Care Professional on the Green Mountain Care Board: Dr. Kathleen McGraw, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, testified on behalf of the Vermont Medical Society in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in favor of S.42, requiring at least one member of the Green Mountain Care Board to be a health care professional.  Dr. McGraw stressed that health care reform has multiple goals: reducing health care costs, improving patient experience, and improving overall health.  The Green Mountain Care Board cannot meet these goals without many perspectives informing their decisions—that of patient, premium payer, and health care professional.  Dr. McGraw stressed that a “health care professional’s expertise is not a conflict, but an asset, and it is missing on the Green Mountain Care Board.” 

Rutland Secure Recovery Residence Proposal:  It has been estimated that the Department of Mental Health’s proposal for a secure residential facility to replace the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence will take six years to build.  In search of quicker options, the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions turned to Claudio Fort, President of Rutland Regional Medical Center, to present a plan for a secure recovery residence for individuals who have historically had long lengths of stay at inpatient psychiatric units.  The eight-bed facility can be opened in 18 to 24 months.  It would be located on Rutland Regional Medical Center’s campus and staffed jointly by Rutland Regional Medical Center and Rutland Mental Health Services.

House Health Care Budget Memo: The House Health Care committee sent a memo to the Appropriations committee with recommendations for the FY 2020 budget.  Included in those recommendations were:

Rejecting $2.5 million increase in hospital and health insurance contribution to the Green Mountain Care Board—the Administration proposed shifting part of the state’s contribution to the Green Mountain Care Board’s budget, and the Committee rejected this proposal.
Reinstating funding for support of emergency departments—the Administration cut funding for sheriff supervision of patients in mental health crisis in emergency departments in the FY 2019 budget adjustment bill and the FY 2020 budget.  In the FY 2019 budget adjustment, the Senate reinstated the funding and required the Department of Mental Health and stakeholders, including VAHHS, to come up with a plan to support emergency departments while meeting regulatory guidelines by April 1st.  The House Health Care Committee recommends adopting the recommendations of the Department of Mental Health and the stakeholder group.

The Committee made mental health community provider workforce its number one priority with a recommendation of $7.5 million from the general fund to increase salaries of the designated agencies and peer support services.  The Committee prioritized this recommendation over building six new MyPad beds to help divert individuals from care in a hospital setting.

Health Insurance Market Stabilization: The House Health Care Committee also drafted a bill to stabilize the health insurance marketplace.  The bill includes:

A financial penalty for the uninsured crafted after the Affordable Care Act’s financial penalty
Other Affordable Care Act protections such as prohibiting exclusion of coverage for preexisting condition and no out-of-pocket costs for preventive services
Small employers in association plans are considered as part of the small group risk pool rather than the large group risk pool
A study on affordability of Vermont’s health care coverage
The Committee will be voting on the bill after Town Meeting Week.


Other Activity

The legislature was busy in advance of its break this week. There were a total of 130 bills released and assigned to committees last week, 24 of which involve health care.  The Senate passed S.86 (tobacco 21), S.54 (an act relating to the regulation of cannabis), S.89 (reflective health benefit plans at all metal levels), S.23 (minimum wage), and S.27 (maintaining the home health agency provider tax).


This Week

Spring break!  This is Town Meeting week, when legislators take the week off to go home, attend town meetings, and meet with constituents.  See you next week!