Legislative Report - 4/17/11

In the last report, I wrote about the Health Care bill, H.202, and mentioned a forum that was held in Shelburne on April 5th.  That forum was attended by around 100 people, including many Charlotters.  It was reported in the Burlington Free Press as well as in the Shelburne News, both of which can be found online.  I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the other important legislation that was passed by the House in the last few weeks. 

The Appropriations bill (H.441) establishes the $4.7 billion balanced budget that Vermont will follow for FY12.  The Appropriations Committee reviewed reams of documents designed to help them understand what the requested money is for, how each agency is meeting its outcomes and goals in the present year and for next year, and how they plan to meet those outcomes with less money and still carry out their mission. This year, after several years of budget reductions, the loss of Federal stimulus money, and continued caution regarding the pace of Vermont's own economic recovery, agencies had to state that in many cases, the level of service they provide to Vermonters would be reduced.  If revenues improve, some of the cuts may be restored in next year’s budget adjustment bill. 

The Transportation bill (H.443) has at its core the generation and distribution of nearly $553 million of transportation funds. The towns are supported strongly within this budget, and it includes a municipal sidewalk grant program.  The policy section of the bill also includes clearing the budget book of some expired bridge and road projects based on input from Towns, Regional Planning Commissions and VTrans.  No bonding was included in the 2012 fiscal plan. However, authorization to bond was approved if a federal grant is awarded for the Western Rail Corridor improvements.

The Hospice and Palliative Care bill (H.201) also passed.  It encourages, but does not mandate, health insurers to provide coverage for a terminal care program and an “enhanced hospice access” benefit where members may access hospice care without being required to first discontinue curative therapies.  A national insurance company has found that such coverage saves them money. Vermont will apply for a waiver so that such coverage could be available to recipients of our State health care programs and allow individuals who have been admitted to hospice to apply for the Choices for Care program as well, which helps pay for in-home services.

A bill (H.42) prohibiting the use of credit reports and credit history in most employment decisions was passed last week.  It strikes a balance between reducing arbitrary barriers to employment for Vermont workers and addressing the screening needs of employers in certain circumstances.

A provision of the Vermont Energy Bill of 2011 (H.56) that financed the Clean Energy Development Fund through a 55-cent monthly electric fee was deleted at the last minute before the bill was passed.  Instead, an alternative suggested by the Shumlin administration that would free up some CEDF money that is currently committed to commercial solar tax credits was approved. It would allow those companies qualified to take the tax credits the option of accepting an up-front grant worth 50% of their projected tax credits.  The amount of funds that would be freed up is expected to equal roughly the amount that would have been raised through the 55-cent monthly fee.  A little more than $2 million, this amount is enough to keep vital, job-supporting CEDF grants going for another year.

I will not be holding any more “Representative Meetups” this legislative session, however, I welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).  I expect the session to end the first or second week of May.  My website will remain active.

Legislative Report - 4/3/2011

Bills have moved quickly during the last two weeks through the Vermont House, including passage of some very important bills: a Hospice and Palliative Care bill, the Miscellaneous Tax bill, the Appropriations bill, the Transportation bill, the Capital Construction bill, and the Unified Health System bill, the last being probably the most controversial of all.  Because of its importance, and because there are so many misconceptions floating around abut it, I will devote this report entirely to H.202, the Unified Health System bill.

When the bill was introduced at the beginning of the session, it was given the title, “An act relating to a single-payer and unified health system.”   The Health Committee spent weeks taking testimony from many different stakeholders in order to gain as many perspectives as possible.  After a lot of revising, the resulting bill was brought to the floor and debated for 18 hours over two days before it was passed on March 24th.

H.202 is the beginning of an process to provide health coverage for all Vermonters.  It will do 3 things:
1) create a Health Care Exchange, which will set standards for health coverage and allow Vermonters to compare and choose an insurance plan from the various plans being offered in Vermont;
2) create the Green Mountain Care Board which will set goals for universal coverage including primary, preventative, chronic and acute care, and will determine the costs of providing that care, and develop methods for controlling costs and funding the health care system, and will report its findings to the legislature; and
3) create the Green Mountain Care program, which will eventually, after the details have been worked out, provide health benefits to all Vermonters. 

The legislature will have to vote in subsequent years to accept the findings and to move to the next phase if warranted.  The last phase would be to approve the funding to implement the plan and start enrolling Vermonters, and this would not happen before 2015.  At each step, the legislature has the option of exiting this strategy.  H.202 does not go all the way in getting the job done because it basically sets the stage for designing the system in a rational manner. 

Some may ask why the Green Mountain Care program is included in the bill if it won’t be needed for several years.  There are several reasons including:
·         if we are serious about reform, we need to make a commitment to it;
·         we are more likely to be successful if we provide clarity about the direction we want to go;
·         it is easier to explore and receive federal waivers if we have a commitment in statute.

Finally, it is important to clarify what the bill does NOT do.  It does not include a payroll tax; the method of financing will be determined during the planning phase.  Nor will it supplant Medicare or employer retirement health plans, but will be secondary to them.  

By the time this article is published, a forum on H.202 will have been held in Shelburne.  I tried to get the word out via the Front Porch Forum, my website, emails, and posters.  If you were not able to attend, there are plans to hold a similar forum in Hinesburg in the coming weeks.  Keep an eye on this website for a notice.  You may also find answers to some frequently asked questions here.  


There will be an informational forum to hear about and discuss the VT Unified Health Care Bill (H.202) with Rep. Mark Larson, Chair of the VT House Committee on Health, and Steve Kimball from the Dept of Banking & Insurance. After a presentation by Rep. Larson, the floor will be open for questions. The forum has been arranged by Rep. Kate Webb (Shelburne), Rep. Joan Lenes (Shelburne, St.George), and Rep. Mike Yantachka (Charlotte, Hinesburg). All interested persons are welcome to attend.

When: Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, 6:30 - 8:30PM
Where: Shelburne Town Office, Shelburne Village

A list of questions and answers regarding the bill can be found at H.202 FAQs.