Legislative Update
by Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations

Last Week
Coronavirus $1.25 Billion Relief Fund:  VAHHS updated the health care committees on the current financial status of Vermont’s hospitals, noting that while hospitals have received federal funding, the amount does not cover the Medicare advance payments that hospitals turned to at the beginning of the crisis to fund COVID-19 preparation. These are loans from the federal government with a 10.2 percent interest rate.  

Secretary Mike Smith testified about the importance of stabilizing Vermont’s health care system and referenced a $300 million figure. He noted that any funding would likely come with “strings” with the goal of furthering health care reform and ensuring low or no rate increases on health insurance premiums for Vermonters.

Suspension of deductible for preventive medications:  The Department of Financial Regulations released an  emergency rule  on Friday that suspends deductibles for generic drugs classified as preventive medication as well as brand or biological drugs when the generic preventive medication is not available.

Resuming dental care:  Vermont’s dental practices can begin non-urgent “aerosol-generating” procedures starting today, June 1 under the following  guidance .  

This Week

Physician Assistant (PA) Licensure:  Last week, the House Health Care Committee voted out  S. 128 , the PA Licensure bill. This week, it will go to the full House for a vote.   
In the News
Scott administration plans $300M relief package for health care organizations

The Scott administration plans to propose a $300 million bail out of Vermont’s health care system, which has been crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith told lawmakers and regulators Wednesday that he planned to make the relief package available to a broad array of medical professionals, including doctors, hospitals, dentists, eye doctors and mental health providers.

“We kept the system from collapsing,” Smith told the Green Mountain Care Board. “Now we need to stabilize it over time.”

The money would be drawn from $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds, and will be presented to the Legislature for approval by mid-June, he said.

The announcement came after representatives from health care trade groups offered a bleak prognosis for Vermont’s health care system. The state hospital system is losing $100 million a month — and will continue to see similar losses for the foreseeable future, said Devon Green, of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. More than a fifth of independent physician practices may not survive the economic crisis, according to Susan Ridzon, executive director of HealthFirst, an organization that advocates for doctors in private practice.
State to shut down some pop-up alternative care sites

A low coronavirus infection rate in Vermont means pop-up alternative care sites are going unused. So, the state is working on a plan to take some of them down.

Pop-up sites, like the one at the Spartan Arena in Rutland, were designed for non-COVID patients in case hospitals became inundated with patients who did have coronavirus.

The one in Rutland went up in April and can handle 150 patients but it has never been used.

Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says Rutland, St. Albans and Barre will be the first three sites to come down.

The Rutland Regional Medical Center tells WCAX News they have not been given a date yet on when that will happen but they expect to find out this week.
Vermont hits two major Covid-19 benchmarks

For several days in a row over the weekend, more than 1,000 tests for Covid-19 were given daily in Vermont — a goal state officials have been aiming for as businesses reopen.

The state reached another benchmark in containing the outbreak Wednesday as well: For the first time since the start of the pandemic, there were no currently hospitalized individuals who are confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to official statistics.

Both milestones, though important metrics as Vermont takes steps to reopen, are likely to be temporary.

Vermont’s testing numbers declined again below the 1,000-per-day mark on Tuesday, though the daily totals over the weekend signal that the state has high capacity to handle tests.
Telehealth appointments are surging, and they may be the new normal for primary care
My Champlain Valley

Telehealth visits are surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as doctors and patients adapt to remote appointments, it’s becoming apparent that they may be here to stay.

“About 80 percent of our visits are using telemedicine, and 20 percent are in person,” said Todd Young, Director of Telehealth Services for the UVM Health Network. “We’re seeing projections in primary care to be roughly 60 percent telehealth to 40 percent in person after COVID-19.”

Prior to the pandemic, the UVM Health Network averaged roughly 60 telehealth visits a week. Now, they’re handling about 6,000. Tuesday alone accounted for 1400 visits.

Fortunately for Young and the UVM Health Network, plans to expand telehealth had been underway before COVID-19 arrived.

“We were slowly ramping up, and that’s why it was really easy for us to scale it once COVID-19 came,” Young said. “All of our primary care offices prior to COVID-19 could do video visits.”

Vt. officials: No one in hospital for coronavirus for first time since March

For the first time since March, health officials in Vermont say no one is in the hospital because of coronavirus.

Statewide, there have been 971 cases. Of those, 87 percent of those people have already recovered.

Unfortunately, 54 people have died.

People in the News