Legislative Update
Devon Green, VP of Government Relations

Free-Standing Birth Centers: The Senate passed S.204, licensure of freestanding birth centers. Sen. Hardy noted that, like many births, it was a long and painful process. The point of contention was whether birth units should be required to go through a Certificate of Need process. As passed, the bill includes freestanding birth centers in the Certificate of Need process, but directs the Green Mountain Care Board to conduct a needs assessment and make recommendations by April 1, 2023.
Wait Times Report: The Director of Health Care Reform and the Department of Financial Regulation presented its Health Services Wait Times Report to both health care committees. The Department of Financial Regulation said it would continue to collect data on the issue. The Green Mountain Care Board is also collecting data on this issue through its hospital budget process. 
Mental Health: The House Health Care Committee heard from witnesses on S.195, which sets up a process for developing a statewide certification program for peer support specialists. The Office of Professional Regulation would like to review the regulation of peer support services and potentially have greater regulatory oversight.  
Cybersecurity: In examining current cyber security issues, the House Energy and Technology Committee heard from the University of Vermont Health Network about its ransomware attack a year and a half ago. While there was no data breach or ransom paid, recovering from the attack took a considerable amount of time. Lessons learned include:
  • Cybersecurity is a top priority for the entire organization
  • Ensure downtime procedures cover extended downtimes
  • Cyberattack recovery is an “all hands” effort—not just the IT department
  • Cost and coverage of cyber insurance is an ongoing challenge
Prescription Drugs: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard an introduction to S.242, a bill that provides quality and safety protections for sending prescription drugs from specialty pharmacies directly to health care organizations, which is called “white bagging,” as well as the practice of sending specialty medications directly to patient homes, which is called “brown bagging.” The committee will review this issue in conjunction with H.353, the pharmacy benefit manager bill.
In the News
Officials tell Vermonters not to panic about high Covid levels in 3 counties

Vermont officials said they did not believe federal guidance that rated three counties as having “high” Covid-19 community levels should be cause for concern.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that Washington, Essex and Windsor counties had high Covid community levels, while Orleans, Caledonia and Orange counties had medium Covid levels. 

But Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press conference on Tuesday that the metrics the CDC uses can be skewed because of Vermont’s relatively small size and recent health care staffing patterns. 

“Small states, especially small states with rural counties like ours, appear to have more unpredictable and variable case rates in these counties. And the difference between a count or a color on the map can literally be a few cases,” he said. 
‘Huge relief’ as Vermont's largest health care provider and national insurance company reach a tentative deal

Hundreds of Vermonters are no longer at imminent risk of losing access to health care providers through the University of Vermont Health Network.

That’s as the hospital system announced a deal UnitedHealthcare to continue to accept the insurance company's commercial plans.

As of Wednesday night, UVM's statement said they've reached a renewal agreement for the next year. However, a United representative told VPR the companies have only come to an agreement in principle. He added that the existing contract has been extended until the end of April and they're still finalizing a long-term agreement.
It's not just COVID. Vt. hospitals face financial challenges heading into budget season.

The Green Mountain Care Board recently rejected a request from Rutland Regional Medical Center to raise the hospital's service rates, and the board is now considering a similar request from the UVM Health Network.

The rate increase proposals come as Vermont's hospitals are preparing for the upcoming 2023 budget cycle, which promises to be especially challenging for hospitals as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

VPR's Grace Benninghoff spoke with reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman about the challenges facing Vermont's hospitals. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Vermont discontinues mobile clinic for children

A state-run mobile clinic that evaluated children for developmental disabilities such as autism is closing, and the Vermont Department of Health is now directing families whose children need such evaluations to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

While some families can get these evaluations — which can take two hours — at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, both academic medical centers have waits of as much as a year.

In the meantime, families and those trying to support them while they await a diagnosis are left to manage children’s behaviors without a complete understanding of what might be causing them.

“I do not have a lot to say beyond how desperate we are for care of our neurodiverse pediatric patients,” Dr. Rebecca Yukica said of the clinic’s closing, which the state’s maternal and child health director announced in a March 21 letter to community partners. “There is a tremendous need. This is an area of great hardship.”
Hospitals in the News
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