Final Reading: Legislators try to revive universal health care plan

From left, Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln; Rep. Saudia LaMont, D-Morristown; Rep. Esme Cole, D-Hartford; Rep. Ela Chapin-D East Montpelier; Rep. Jubilee McGill-D Bridport; and Rep. Brian Cina, P/D-Burlington held a celebration march on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, to deliver the Green Mountain Care renewal bill to the Office of Legislative Counsel, where the bills are turned over for official presentation. Photo by Kristen Fountain/VTDigger

Like all good pursuits, the latest push for universal primary care began with a circle of trust, this one among the high-backed red velvet chairs that line the front wall of the House of Commons.

After lunch on Tuesday, Rep. Brian Cina, P/D Burlington, suggested to the small group of 59 sponsors who are one-third of the new bill that they set a collective goal of “health care as a human right” before they leave. After a moment of silence, the legislators came out together led by Cina and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman raising the rear.

With ceremonial pomp, they made their way through the Cedar Creek Room, down the back stairs and through the cloakroom to their final destination: the small office of the writing unit of the Office of Legal Counsel, where bills are converted for official presentation. .

In comparison, the government’s journey to provide universal access to affordable health care has been much smaller. In 2011, lawmakers passed Act 48, which created the Green Mountain Care Board and pledged that the state will “ensure access to and provision of quality, medically necessary health services for all Vermonters.”

Then Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned the dream of Green Mountain Care, a publicly funded universal health care plan in December 2014 after a study showed it would require an 11.5% payroll tax increase and a 9% income tax increase.

But Cina and her supporters want her colleagues to revisit the idea, making the case that, despite the Affordable Care Act, the need remains. The bill calls for “increased use of Green Mountain Care” starting with publicly funded primary care in the first year, followed by preventive dentistry and vision the second, with no deductibles or co-pays.

“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for Vermonters is the lack of insurance,” Cina said. “We have a low uninsured rate, but a lot of people can’t use their insurance because the deductible is too high and they don’t have co-pays.”

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Olivia Sharrow, director of Vermont’s Free and Referral Clinics, and Daniel Barlow, director of the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre, told lawmakers as much in the Senate Health and Welfare committee room Tuesday morning. Sharrow said that across the country these nine free clinics, which rely heavily on volunteer doctors, cared for more than 11,500 people last year, which is almost 1,500 more than in 2021.

In Barre, Barlow said more than half of his clinic’s patients actually have health insurance — either Medicaid or a private plan — but either couldn’t find a primary care provider or couldn’t afford out-of-pocket costs.

Cina said she does not expect the bill to proceed as written; Even proof of the bill would be a victory in his book, he said. Meanwhile, he enjoyed attending church with his colleagues. “I don’t think I’ve ever done this before with credit,” she said.

– Kristen Fountain


“It’s an unfair choice, it’s unfairly done and it’s very misleading.”

Those were the words Jared Duval, a member of the Vermont Climate Council, used Tuesday in describing last week’s testimony from Julie Moore, head of the Agency of Natural Resources, about the potential cost of the proposed clean temperature. Both testified before lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Duval – who is also the executive director of the Energy Action Network, which tracks and analyzes greenhouse gas emissions – said that the average family is expected to save a total of $7,500 in lifetime savings “because of the measures taken between now and 2030 to meet the needs to reduce pollution in the heating sector. “

Moore focused his analysis on the projected upfront costs of things like switching to electric heat pumps and climate-friendly homes. He said it would cost $1.2 billion to make the necessary changes and increase the price of gasoline by 70 cents per liter for those who use kerosene, heating oil and propane. While describing his analysis as the product of “back-of-the-envelope calculations,” he urged lawmakers to analyze the costs carefully.

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Duval said that he won’t be able to know how clean temperatures will affect fuel prices until the program is in place, but he hopes that “his analysis greatly exaggerates the price impact on fossil fuels.”

“He revealed that he was confident that he was wrong. I am confident that he was wrong,” said Duval. “It’s very wrong.”

— Emma Cotton

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced that the federal government plans to eradicate the disease Covid-19 emergency announcements on May 11, a move that could affect Vermonters’ ability to get vaccines, tests and treatment for the disease.

National emergency declarations and public health emergencies related to Covid have been in place since 2020, allowing for various legislative changes in insurance, health systems, telehealth, pharmacies and vaccination authorization.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said the decision to suspend emergency declarations was appropriate because Covid “will be part of our daily challenges.”

“We have passed this emergency situation. The vaccine that we have is working, and it’s going to be — like we do with the common cold, I believe — you’re going to have Covid boosters every year of some kind,” Scott said.

Read more here.

– Erin Petenko

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee greenlighted legislation to fix the mid-year budget, continuing approximately $86 million in general fund spendingmost of which would have gone to homes – which led to Gov. Dad snaps his fingers at his weekly Statehouse news conference on Tuesday.

Gov. Phil Scott told reporters he was “very pleased” with the committee’s inclusion of several of his administration’s key items in the BAA – but as for the additional spending approved by the committee, Scott advised lawmakers to start tightening their belts.

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“I’m concerned about the $86, $87 million extra they’ve added and where that’s going to come from,” Scott said. “Obviously we have a budget that includes that much money and we want to make sure that we continue to focus on the things that are important and what can get us through the next few years as we see the economy going down.”

Asked how he felt about the committee’s $21 million proposal to extend the federal emergency housing program until June 30, Scott said, “I don’t know if that’s necessary.” I think it’s something we have to discuss, but I think we have the plan we have right now.” Currently, the program will expire at the end of March.

– Sarah Mearhoff


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