Legislative Update
Devon Green,
VP of Government Relations

Ding, dong, the 2021-2022 legislative biennium is dead! Or, on life support until we see if the governor issues any more vetoes and calls a special session.
It’s been a long two years, as reflected in the number of legislators leaving, including Bill Lippert, Chair of the House Health Care Committee. I will never forget that day in March of 2019 when he asked health care providers what they needed during the pandemic and then passed supportive legislation in about 24 hours. Thank you.
Our priorities this year were workforce, mental health, and regulatory flexibilities. Regulatory flexibilities were extended until spring of 2023. The legislature passed several workforce initiatives aimed at nurses, including: $2 million for nurse faculty, $400,000 for preceptor pay to Critical Access Hospitals, $2.5 million for employer nursing pipelines, $2.5 million in loan repayment to nurses and other providers, $1 million in loan assistance to nurse faculty, and $1 million to simulation labs. The legislature also allocated significant funding to the mental health workforce and passed the governor’s proposal of $500,000 to emergency departments for patients in mental health crisis with long stays. Click to view our Bill Tracker.
These initiatives would be arduous during a regular session, but workforce challenges, new variants, and supply shortages popped up like a chainsaw murderer in a 70s horror movie every time we thought we could take a collective breath. Luckily, I get to work up close with those who keep our health care system and our government moving forward to serve Vermonters. These folks are truly inspirational, and I appreciate their work.
Green Mountain Care Board Chair and Member Vacancies – Applications Due 5/27

The State of Vermont has posted the description and application for the upcoming Green Mountain Care Board Chair vacancy and a member seat. The State is seeking candidates for the Chair (full time) and Board Member (32 hours per week) who serve a term of 6 years on the Board. Applications are due by May 27th. 

In the News
Regulators sought greater control over hospital budgets. Instead, lawmakers gave them a report.

Members of the Green Mountain Care Board had one goal for this year’s legislative session. The five-member body regulates hospital growth, but it sought the power to set entire hospital budgets.

The care board argued that setting budgets with an eye toward the overall needs of the state would protect everyone, including hospitals, from financial ruin. The Vermont Senate agreed, but House members said the Agency of Human Services, not the Green Mountain Care Board, should set the direction for Vermont’s health care reform efforts.

The two chambers found a compromise this week. S.285 gives the Green Mountain Care Board more than $4 million to come up with a “patient-focused, community-inclusive plan” for setting hospital budgets. The bill also directs the Agency of Human Services and the care board to work together on a new proposal that may, but not necessarily, include the budget-setting authority the board wanted.
Health insurers ask Vermont regulators for double-digit premium hikes

Private health insurers have asked state regulators to approve double-digit premium hikes in 2023 — increases that could mean Vermonters with private insurance could pay hundreds of dollars more for health coverage next year. 

In its annual filing to the Green Mountain Care Board, BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont asked regulators to approve a 12.5% increase in 2023. MVP Health Care asked for 16.6%. 

Insurers said the increases would cover what is expected to be a costly year for hospital spending.

The exact increase for each customer would depend on the plan the enrollee chooses. For example, a BlueCross analysis projects its Silver Plan enrollees could pay $700 more in premiums next year.
Shortage of IV imaging dye hits hospitals in our region

A worldwide shortage of a medical dye used for intravenous imaging in patients is now impacting hospitals in Vermont.

GE Healthcare’s iodinated contrast media is used for imaging including CT scans and angiograms. But most of the world’s supply is made at a facility in Shanghai, China, which has been under strict COVID lockdowns for weeks.

“We are trying to preserve high-quality care for our patients,” said David Clauss, the chief medical officer with the UVM Health Network.

He says the network’s hospitals in Vermont and New York are coming up with new protocols to deal with a dearth of the dye.
Travel Nurses See Swift Change of Fortunes as Covid Money Runs Dry
Kaiser Health News

Tiffanie Jones was a few tanks of gas into her drive from Tampa, Florida, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, when she found out her travel nurse contract had been canceled.

Jones, who has been a nurse for 17 years, caught up with a Facebook group for travel nurses and saw she wasn’t alone. Nurses had reported abruptly losing jobs and seeing their rates slashed as much as 50% midcontract.

“One lady packed up her whole family and was canceled during orientation,” she said.

What’s in Vermont’s 1st Covid ‘surveillance report’ — and what’s not

On Tuesday, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the end of the state’s Covid-19 case dashboard, the central repository for the latest information on cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The last dashboard update is scheduled for May 18. Instead, the state has launched a weekly surveillance report that will “look at this disease in a way that’s similar to how we look at other infectious diseases, such as the flu,” Levine said.

The Vermont Department of Health issued the first edition of this new report on Wednesday, including data from May 1 to May 7. 
Vermont to end COVID dashboard, but hospitalizations are rising

The Vermont Department of Health will be phasing out its public COVID-19 dashboard, which tracks virus data such as daily case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations. The state will instead issue a weekly virus report with key data, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine announced.

The move comes as Vermont's average hospitalizations and deaths are on the upswing, and the test positivity rate is above 14%. This hour, we'll ask Levine to explain the state's pivot on data and why Vermont and other New England states are currently seeing increases in cases.
Hospitals in the News
From our Hospitals 

Attacking UVM Health Network won’t solve health care problems 

By Anya Rader Wallack
Senior Vice President for Strategic Communications at The University of Vermont Health Network

Let’s see what sticks.’ That’s the phrase that came to mind when I read Bill Schubart’s most recent opinion piece. He took incorrect information and poorly conceived ideas and wove them into a pointed attack on the UVM Health Network, without advancing the discussion about the real and complex problems facing patients and providers in our region. That is disappointing.

I generally would not respond to individual commentaries such as Mr. Schubart’s, but it included so many misguided assertions that I need to correct the most egregious errors for the record.

Among them:

The UVM Health Network has pulled out of a planned adolescent psychiatric facility. False. We bid on a Vermont state contract for such a facility, but no contract was awarded. Unfortunately, a VTDigger article also perpetuated this incorrect narrative. Better mental health care is needed in Vermont, especially for children, and we look forward to continued discussions with the state about the role we could play moving forward, while recognizing our current financial state.
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