VAHHS: A busy legislative session planned

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VAHHS: A busy legislative session planned

Mon, 01/10/2022 - 10:35am -- tim

by VAHHS President Jeff Tieman There are few places in the U.S. today where partisanship isn’t front and center, too often clouding common sense and derailing progress on critical issues. Given the state of affairs in Washington and the stress of our third year managing a pandemic, it was hopeful last week to see some unity and common purpose in our corner of the country.

Our independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Republican Governor Phil Scott and State Senate President, Democrat Becca Balint, joined forces on the steps of the State House to highlight the critical importance of bolstering our health care workforce. That is no small thing. We should be proud they came together, not just because this issue is among the most acute and complex to tackle, but because they came together at all.

In that same spirit of collaboration, last week the VAHHS team interfaced directly with our entire congressional delegation and top state officials on the serious health care challenges facing our state. In both cases—the federal and state leaders—we have serious and thoughtful partners working in unison to ensure Vermont’s response continues to be effective.

It can be easy to take this for granted because working together is more familiar in Vermont than it is foreign. I hope that sense of possibility and collaboration is a feature of the legislative session that just began. Even with a foundation of collaborating more than confronting, the weeks ahead will require hard work, debate and compromise to develop sound public policy at a crucial time. Our health care work force is depending on us to get it right.

That is why the commitment last week to grow and retain our health care workforce was such a unifying and important step. It was welcome news for health care team members who have endured so much over the past 21 months and continue to show up and take care of us through everything COVID has thrown at them.

As lawmakers discuss the workforce proposals and policies, VAHHS will be there every step of the way to advocate for patients, health care providers, hospitals and our system of care. Have a safe, careful and healthy week!

 
Legislative Update
by Devon Green, VP of Government Relations
 
Although they were firmly in their home offices, the legislators hit the ground running last week and took up our top priorities of health care workforce, extending regulatory flexibilities and telehealth. The amount of activity during what is usually a “getting up to speed” week speaks volumes. Hopefully we will see even more activity when Governor Scott presents his FY 2023 budget, which is tentatively scheduled for January 18th.
 
Health Care Workforce: The legislature took up the issue of workforce right away, with the Scott Administration presenting its mid-year FY 2022 budget adjustment proposals, including:
  • $25 million to cover current traveler contracts, including those for ICUs and long term care facilities
  • $15 million in retention funding with priority for employers with highest need and greatest impact
  • $1.4 million in staffing incentives to open beds at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital
The Director of Health Care Reform presented the Health Care Workforce Strategic Plan’s findings to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, House Health Care Committee and House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. All committees will continue to work on this issue.
 
Extending regulatory flexibilities: The Senate Health and Welfare and House Health Care Committees dug right into Act 6 and regulatory flexibilities for health care organizations during COVID-19. Representatives from the Health Care Association Coalition, which includes VAHHS, supported extending almost all of the regulatory flexibilities until March 31, 2023. The committees stressed their commitment to addressing these issues prior to their expiration on March 31, 2022.
 
Telehealth: The health care committees also met on the future of telehealth licensure in Vermont. The Office of Professional Regulation presented the Act 21 Interstate Telehealth Working Group’s findings and recommendations for short term and long term telehealth licensure:
  • Near Term: The current flexibility of allowing health care clinicians to practice telehealth in Vermont as long as the clinician has a license in good standing in another state ends on March 31, 2022.
  • Short Term: From April 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, telehealth practitioners will register with the licensing authority.
  • Long Term: Going forward from July 1, 2023 there would be a tiered approach:
  • Registration: for less than 120 days and fewer than 10 patients
  • Telehealth License: for up to two years, renewable, up to 20 patients
  • Full License or Compact: for two years, renewable, and 20 or more patients