by Devon Green, VAHHS Vice President of Government Relations Everything about the legislature has changed, but one thing remains the same—just when it seemed impossible for all the necessary bills to pass before “leaving town,” it all came together, including a $275 million package for Vermont’s health care providers and an extension on COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities. The legislature has adjourned for now, but they will be back in August to pass the remaining three quarters of the FY 2021 budget and examine and adjust the disbursement of Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF).
Health Care Provider Stabilization Program: The Vermont Legislature unanimously passed H.965, which would create a $275 million Health Care Provider Stabilization Program. Once the measure is signed into law by the governor, the Agency of Human Services would administer the program through a needs-based application process. Health care providers can request funding for COVID-19-related costs and lost revenue. The legislature directs AHS to consider grant applications based on:
- Impact on applicant’s sustainability
- Degree to which CRF grant would go toward services that would otherwise become limited or unavailable and/or would enable applicant to stay in business
- Degree to which applicant maintains participation in value-based payment arrangements, if applicable
- Degree to which applicant can make appropriate and efficient use of CRF funds
- Financial assistance received from other sources
The bill also includes $28 million for a Front-Line Employee Hazard Pay Grant Program. This program provides $1,200 to $2,000 to eligible employees working in hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and other health-related organizations. Employers may deduct payroll taxes from the hazard pay.
COVID-19 Regulatory Flexibilities Extended: The legislature also passed H.960, which extends many of the COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities set out in Act 91 to March or June of 2021, regardless of Vermont’s State of Emergency. Extended regulatory flexibilities include licensure, telehealth and AHS waiver of rules.
In addition to extending regulatory flexibilities, the bill also creates a workgroup to make coverage recommendations for health care services delivered by telephone and requires health insurers to eliminate prior authorization requirements that do not justify administrative costs as well as pilot a “gold card” program to exempt certain providers, including primary care providers, from prior authorization or otherwise streamline the prior authorization process.
Finally, the bill also includes a Mental Health Integration Council to ensure that the all sectors actively participate in mental health integration.