We are back in session and have hit the ground running – an indication that we will have a fast paced session this year. In the Healthcare committee, on which I serve, our most pressing issue this week was hearing testimony from the Brattleboro Retreat and Agency of Human Services. With cash on hand of only 30-40 days and utilization of only 60% (acute care beds are close to 90-95% capacity) - the Brattleboro Retreat asked Agency of Human Services for additional funding or they may need to close, sell or downsize. Just a few days before the session started it was reported that the Secretary of the Agency of Humans Services turned down that request. The Brattleboro Retreat is not only a primary element of our mental health system and is 100% of the State’s capacity for inpatient children’s beds, but is also an economic engine in Windham County. Steps towards a productive collaborative conversation were made last week between the two parties and the legislature will continue to stay abreast of the situation.
We reviewed the administration’s budget adjustments for the departments under our jurisdiction – Department of Vermont Health Access and Department of Mental Health. This is an annual mid-year process that starts in the House. We review the Administration’s budget adjustments recommendations to provide House Appropriations policy feedback. One area that stood out in this review - The Department of Mental Health has ongoing pressure in residential treatment for children. Although many factors cause this pressure, primarily it’s due to an increase in the acuity of clinical need for children. Our committee will continue to work with DMH and other stakeholders on both children and adult needs and the system of mental health.
The Vermont’s healthcare system is considered a “merged market”. This means individuals and small businesses are combined into one market for assessing risk and offering plans through Vermont Health Connect. This merged market includes approximately 74,000 people. Act 63 of 2019 required the Agency of Human Services to evaluate the impact of health insurance premiums from fully separating the merged individual and small group markets and to develop a strategy for making health insurance more affordable for all Vermont residents. Stakeholders met over the summer and fall and presented their findings to our committee. What ensured was a lively and thoughtful discussion on several proposals including fully unmerging or partially unmerging the markets. This was the first of what will be many committee discussions this year on Vermont’s health insurance structure.
In the first week no bills were voted on, but I expect that to change quickly. Both paid family leave and minimum wage legislation moved to conference committee’s this week. Should the committee’s reach agreement on their respective legislation, both chambers then have an opportunity to vote up or down (the chambers cannot make changes to the legislation).
This past weekend in Essex - myself and a small group of planners, along with many, many volunteers with support from area organizations hosted our first annual Gather at The Table dinner. This free event included a delicious dinner, an open gym, music, board games and the opportunity to chat with new and old neighbors. Our intention was to gather our Essex and Westford neighbors, to connect the non-school and school communities and to enjoy an evening together. Well over 400 people attended! We’ve already started our planning for next year. My heart is full!
I hope these weekly updates will remain informative. Please reach out with questions and comment to Houghton.firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-373-0599.