Legislative Update
Federal and state regulatory agencies continue to take measures to help health care providers and others respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read about the latest here.
In the News
Vermont Officials 'Cautious' But Say State Is Likely At COVID-19 Peak

Vermont officials are "cautious" but say they think the state is currently in its peak for COVID-19 cases.

“The most recent modeling study showed this week would actually be our peak," Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press conference Wednesday. “I’m going to be very cautious as I say this, but cautiously say that perhaps we are in that peak zone.”

He added that Vermont appears to be "on the side of the best-case scenario," though he would wait to say that more definitively after the next few days.

“I’d like to see the rest of this week go by," Levine said.

Drop Off In Patient Traffic Triggers Concerns Among Vermont Doctors

As the number of patient visits drops off at healthcare providers across Vermont, doctors are becoming increasingly worried that some people are forgoing necessary medical care in order to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus.

One of the odd outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic is that many healthcare providers are seeing fewer people now than they did before COVID-19 arrived in Vermont.

“I will say certainly we are seeing many less patients,” said Dr. Joseph Hagan, a pediatrician who practices in Burlington.

An Unproven Vaccine Is Too Risky
The New York Times

In the desperation to save lives in the coronavirus pandemic, we have already begun to relax scientific standards in the hope of finding a treatment without waiting to prove that it works.

Bioethicists have proposed risky human-challenge trials — which expose volunteers to the virus — to speed coronavirus vaccine development, and the Trump administration has already let one vaccine maker skip the usual requirement for animal safety trials before injecting an unproven vaccine into the arms of human volunteers.

The World Health Organization has funded a trial of new drug therapies that shockingly has no placebo-control arm.

And, of course, the experimental and potentially dangerous use of hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19 patients already boasts the presidential seal of approval and has become commonplace in American hospitals.
Small Vermont hospitals struggling financially to survive

As Vermont’s largest hospitals prepare for a potential coronavirus surge, their smaller counterparts are toiling to simply survive.

The 25-bed Springfield Hospital, just saved in bankruptcy court by a $1.3 million emergency state loan, is one of many local health care providers straining to stay solvent amid the coronavirus crisis.

“The financial piece of this is daunting,” Springfield interim CEO Michael Halstead says. “We were struggling before, without any cash reserves. Now we’re going pay period by pay period.”

Springfield is one of half of Vermont’s 14 hospitals to lose money in the last fiscal year and one of six to do so for three or more consecutive annual budgets.

Before Covid-19, health care providers were challenged by the state’s aging population, rising costs and the fact public insurance used by many patients pays less than private insurance.

The pandemic since has forced the postponement of profitable elective procedures that is costing Vermont hospitals a collective $115 million a month, according to state estimates.

Copley Hospital offers test for Covid-19 immunity

Copley Hospital has rolled out a new test that can identify people who have developed Covid-19 antibodies.

If successful, the blood-based test could be used to determine who is immune and who can likely return to work without fear of being infected or passing the virus on to others.

The break-through serology test can detect whether an individual has antibodies to the virus and provide results in minutes.

Copley is the only health care facility in Vermont and one of a small number nationwide to start offering the tests, according to CEO Joe Woodin. The 25-bed hospital is first offering the tests to health care workers, and started a first round of voluntary testing for 535 employees early last week.

Woodin hailed the tests as a game-changer that will help protect health care workers, and ultimately allow people who had the virus without symptoms to get back to work without fearing for their safety or jeopardizing others.

“It’s really valuable to know you have been infected and you have antibodies,” Woodin said. “This is where the country's going.”

The trial test hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the federal government has not objected to the trial.

DFR requires insurers to cover COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment with no cost sharing
Vermont Business Magazine

Governor Phil Scott and the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) today announced an emergency regulation requiring commercial insurers to waive cost-sharing requirements, such as co-payments, coinsurance or deductible requirements, for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. The emergency regulation is retroactive to March 13, 2020, the date that Governor Scott declared a State of Emergency.

"During this unprecedented emergency, Vermonters deserve access to the care they need to stay safe and healthy,” said Governor Scott. “As we work to expand testing to more Vermonters with symptoms of COVID-19, it is critical that our efforts to help control the spread of the virus are not affected by insurance costs.”

The emergency regulation applies to fully funded health insurance plans such as plans sold on the exchange or to large group employers. Consistent with existing DFR rules, insurers will be required to cover out-of-network services for members if in-network providers are unavailable.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has evolved quickly and is impacting the economic lives of so many Vermonters,” said DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak “Accordingly, we have been working closely with our health insurers to eliminate financial barriers to testing and treatment of the disease.”

UVM Med Center adds in-house Covid-19 testing capability

The University of Vermont Medical Center is now able to test for coronavirus on site and receive results within hours instead of days, hospital president Stephen Leffler said Wednesday.

Leffler said that the hospital was able to launch on-site testing Tuesday after a month of work by the hospital's lab. He said with the development of the in-house testing, the hospital’s testing capacity was the best it has been.

“We are actually doing real-time testing at the hospital, that’s a huge opportunity to increase the capacity of the number of tests we can do, and it also improves how fast we can get results back,” he said a press conference with Mayor Miro Weinberger.

The mayor also announced that there had only been one additional positive test at Decker Towers after the state did blanket testing there, for a total of two positive Covid-19 patients there.

The state has seen a decrease in positive Covid-19 tests in recent days, and Leffler said the hospital has been steady with around 20 Covid-19 patients. The hospital continues to have additional ICU and ventilator capacity, he said.