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Legislative Update 5-6-19

May 05, 2019
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By Devon Green, Vice President of Government Relations

Last Week

Budget: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the budget out of committee on Friday.  The budget restores the proposed cut of $582,000 to funding for supervision of individuals in mental health crisis in emergency departments and includes several other health initiatives, such as: 

  • Allotting $500,000 in state funding for a total of $1 million in total funding to expand the Medicaid dental benefit.  This will likely result in 18,000 people being able to access newly eligible services.
  • Increasing the personal needs allowance for nursing home patients
  • Increasing rates for emergency medical services
  • Restoration of the proposed cut of $500,000 to Supports and Services at Home (SASH)

Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation: Down to the wire, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee revisited a major initiative they began last year—wholesale prescription drug importation.  The design of the initiative is to buy back American-made prescription drugs that are sold to Canada at a lower cost.  The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is extending the date by which the Agency of Human Services must submit a waiver to the Food and Drug Administration from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020 in order to allow Vermont to coordinate with other states who are taking up this initiative.  Vermont may also submit its application earlier.  Last year, VAHHS inserted language that protected the 340B prescription drug program, which allows certain health organizations to purchase prescription drugs at discounted rates in order to  stretch scarce federal resources.  VAHHS will continue to work with the Agency of Human Services to ensure that hospitals can participate in a prescription drug importation program without violating the 340B program. 

Patient Consent to Share Data in Vermont’s Health Information Exchange: Currently, patient data is housed in Vermont’s Health Information Exchange, but the information cannot be shared across providers without a proactive consent from the patient called “opting in.”  The Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) has proposed aligning with the majority of other states with health information exchanges towards an “opt-out” scenario, where patient information can be shared between providers unless the patient states otherwise.  The House Health Care Committee moved forward with the proposal in S.31 on Friday with the addition requiring DVHA to work with stakeholders to develop an implementation strategy that would clearly explain to Vermonters the purpose of the Vermont Health Information Exchange and how the information will be shared, as well as how to opt out of sharing patient information.

Cannabis Commercialization: The House Human Services Committee added several public health provisions to S.54, including regulation of vaporizer cartridges and requiring advertising and labeling to discourage use by children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.  The language from the House Human Services Committee also rejects proposals to relax requirements around medical marijuana.

Next Week

Now that the budget is officially out of Senate Appropriations, the focus will be on Senate Finance and its work on the revenue bills, but several health care related bills will also be moving.

Rural Health Services Task Force: Last week, the House Health Care Committee agreed with additions made to H.528 in the Senate that add a separate study from the Department of Mental Health to assess the statewide need for mental health beds and a request for the Department of Mental Health to work with housing organizations to increase affordable housing opportunities to individuals with mental health needs.  This week, the full House will vote on the bill, and then it will be on its way to the Governor’s desk.

Prohibition of Prior Authorizations for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Last week, House Health passed S.43, a bill that prohibits commercial insurers from requiring a prior authorization before providers can administer MAT, with the addition of specifying that the prohibition on prior authorizations extends to counseling and behavioral therapies that are a part of MAT.  The Senate will review the amendment this week.