Regulators to decide on $2.4 billion in proposed hospital revenue

Vermont’s health care regulators will decide in the next several weeks whether to lower the prices that hospitals charge for services starting Oct. 1.

The hospital system as a whole, which includes 14 hospitals of various sizes and management structures, has proposed to take in $2.4 billion from patients in the upcoming fiscal year, a 5 percent increase over what was budgeted for in the current fiscal year.

The proposed increase in revenue from patient care is higher than the 3.4 percent target the Green Mountain Care Board requested from hospitals going into the hospital budget process, and may be the result of more people needing health care services. ...

Julia Shaw, who works for Vermont Legal Aid’s Office of the Health Care Advocate, said the board should determine what has been causing hospitals to take in excess revenue, and then develop a process for how to address each hospital’s overage.

Shaw said the board should not allow hospitals to “bake in” their revenue overages into their baseline budgets each year. “We hope that the board doesn’t undercut its process by allowing huge revenue increases without determining what’s driving them,” she said.

Shaw said this is the first year since the Green Mountain Care Board started regulating hospital budgets that the Office of the Health Care Advocate has participated in the process. She said there have been “bumps in the road” that she hopes get smoothed out over time.

Reduced traffic fine program to begin

Thousands of Vermonters will have the chance to get their driver’s licenses back starting Thursday. The driver restoration program will let people with unpaid fines for old traffic tickets apply for reduced fines of $30 per ticket. Once the reduced fines are paid, they can have license suspensions for nonpayment lifted.

The program runs Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. Judgment must have been entered on the tickets prior to July 1, 2012. The Vermont Judicial Bureau and DMV estimate that about 40,000 Vermonters are eligible. ...

Chris Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, called the program a “good first step,” but said it was also important that the state make sure low-income Vermonters with multiple traffic tickets know there are programs that allow them to pay the fines in installments to avoid losing their licenses for nonpayment.

“It’s a victory for Vermonters who were getting caught up in a poverty trap of getting a ticket, not being able to pay the fine and having fines pile up,” he said.

Lead investor makes case to regulators to buy Burlington Labs

A former IDX executive told health care regulators he’s ready to save an embattled drug testing company within a month but will walk away if they wait more than a month to issue a permit for the deal. ...

Jim Crook Jr. has been leading an investor group, with minority partnership from the University of Vermont Health Network, to acquire Burlington Labs, which collects and processes urine samples to check for opiates. It operates locations across Vermont and two in other states.

He made his case before the Green Mountain Care Board on Wednesday, seeking to use an emergency process to apply for a permit, called a certificate of need, to acquire the company, which Crook says is in danger of going under. The board approved the request for an emergency process unanimously in a voice vote after taking public comment. ...

At the hearing, Crook faced questions from reporters and health care advocates from Vermont Legal Aid about the alleged fraud. Gobeille, who generally intervenes during the public comment period at board meetings, answered many of the questions himself. ...

“The point is today’s matter is whether there should be an emergency (certificate of need),” Gobeille said. “We are not diving into what the AG is doing or what the issue is with Burlington Labs.”

State Touts Improved IT, Customer Service At Vermont Health Connect

A couple weeks ago, administration officials delivered their final monthly report on Vermont Health Connect to the Legislature. The document strikes a triumphant tone. Vermont’s insurance exchange, the report says, is succeeding at long last.

Trinka Kerris the chief health advocate for Vermont. She oversees Vermont Legal Aid's Office of the Health Care Advocate, an independent office that works to resolve consumer complaints about Vermont Health Connect, other insurers, state programs, hospitals and providers. ...

“It’s only good when you compare it to what it used to be like,” Kerr says. “We still get calls from people who are really upset, really frustrated, really angry about problems that they’ve been trying to resolve for months.”

Just because Vermont Health Connect is better today than it was six months or a year ago, Kerr says, doesn’t mean it’s as good as it should be. The Legislature commissioned an independent review of Vermont Health Connect due at the end of the year.

“I guess I’d like to see the results of the study that’s being done to determine whether it is really worth sticking with the system,” Kerr says.

Federal Court Orders CMS To Fix Improvement Standard Education Effort

A federal district court agreed with beneficiary advocates that CMS hasn't done enough to implement a three-and-a-half-year old settlement agreement to halt a widespread, unofficial policy of cutting off Medicare coverage for certain services when beneficiaries stop improving. The court ordered the agency to provide more education about Medicare coverage of services for beneficiaries that may not be improving The Center for Medicare Advocacy and Vermont Legal Aid alleged the improvement standard was illegal, and CMS and the beneficiary advocates...

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UVM Health Network faces questions on health care costs

A member of the Green Mountain Care Board challenged the state’s largest hospital system to reduce prices without seeking more money from government programs. ...

Dr. Allan Ramsay on Wednesday told top officials from the UVM Health Network that blaming the so-called cost shift for high hospital prices is unfounded. ...

A representative of Vermont Legal Aid’s Office of the Health Care Advocate, which represents the public interest in the hospital budget process, was the first to question why the hospitals were blaming the “cost shift” for higher prices.

Law Line of Vermont executive retires

Thomas F. Garrett retired this week from the top post of the Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, where he had been the executive director since the Law Line formed in 1996. His last day on the job was Monday.

In that post, Garrett managed a staff of attorneys who provide free consultation, advice, intake, referral and education for-low income Vermonters primarily through the Vermont Law Help hotline. The hotline, a joint project of Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line, is funded in part by the Legal Services Corp.  ...

Sam Abel-Palmer, a former staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid and the current Vermont Law Help hotline supervisor, will serve as Law Line’s interim executive director.

Back to drawing board for boarding house regs

Residents packed a public hearing Monday night and demanded the town do something about the proliferating problems at the growing number of boarding houses in town.

The Springfield Select Board had drawn up a draft zoning change that would require any establishment of a boarding or rooming house to get a zoning permit and follow several conditions. ...

Jacob Speidel, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid in Springfield, said there were unintentional consequences of the proposed zoning change, including making it more difficult for the elderly to either rent a room or rent out a room in their homes.

Originally published in the Rutland Herald (available by subscription)

MVP argues for 6.3 percent increase in insurance prices

MVP Health Care is asking state regulators to let it increase how much it charges Vermont Health Connect customers by an average of 6.3 percent next year.

Kaili Kuiper spoke on behalf of Vermont Legal Aid’s Office of the Health Care Advocate, which advocates for the public interest in these cases. She argued that the board should enforce the 3.7 percent increase its actuaries at Lewis and Ellis in Burlington recommended.

In her opening remarks, Kuiper referenced public comments from Wednesday and said health care costs are so high that they are “negatively impacting individuals, families, communities and small businesses in Vermont.”

“They described how health care costs are impeding their access to care, taking a huge chunk out of their budgets, and they’re asking what they will have to give up to afford future rate increases,” Kuiper said.

“Vermonters are living under a federal mandate that requires them to buy health insurance, yet they can’t simply shop around for a better deal because as individuals and small businesses, their only option is to purchase health insurance on the Vermont health exchange,” she said. ...

Kuiper countered that MVP must meet a burden of proof in order to raise prices 6.3 percent and said the insurer hasn’t met it. She said the Lewis and Ellis actuaries use a better methodology and the result of the methodology is more affordable for Vermonters.

A Joint Statement from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and the Shriver Center

Members of the legal aid and public defender community were horrified and outraged by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Two more Black lives taken by those who ostensibly serve and protect. We must find a better path toward justice for our society and for people of color. A first step for our community is to state firmly that we stand in solidarity with the Black community and against the racial inequality that still plagues our nation.

We affirm what should be undeniable—Black Lives Matter. The recurring violence against Black people is but an extreme manifestation of our society’s persistent racism, which denies the Black community, and other communities of color, the right and opportunity to be safe and healthy, to work and live with dignity, and to flourish.

We live in a country where those tasked with protecting our communities too often possess unfounded biases, whether implicit or explicit, that Black people pose a constant danger. This has led to situations where having a broken taillight or selling cigarettes or CDs is punishable by death; where reaching for a wallet is an act of aggression warranting a lethal response.

Our country has always been plagued by these beliefs—that Black communities and other communities of color are criminal and untrustworthy. This is not limited to one part of the country; it is a systemic national problem stretching from New York to Minnesota, California to Florida, and beyond. Our solutions must also be national and systemic. We must address the significant role that race plays in policing practices. Members of the legal aid and public defender community must form genuine and sustainable, community-led partnerships aimed at bridging the racial divide in our country.

Honoring this commitment will take hard work and honest self-criticism. “We’ve always done it this way” is not enough. We commit to a hard look at our work and to ensuring our efforts are driven by the experiences of people of color and an explicit commitment to combating racism. We commit to a hard look at ourselves and our organizations to consciously challenge our own biases and ways we unintentionally contribute to systems of racial disadvantage. We commit to building enduring alliances with communities who struggle against racism every day. Our work must support community leadership.

As we honor the pain and suffering of the communities that have lost loved ones, including the five officers killed in Dallas, we must be guided by justice and love. For us, that path starts with a commitment to be steadfast allies in the pursuit of racial justice. We must work together with all stakeholders, including law enforcement, to develop solutions to these very pressing problems.

As an immediate next step, we will work with our partners to develop an Action Plan for Racial Justice that can guide our organizations in effectuating our commitment.