Vt. health regulators embrace challenges, opportunities

Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 4:20 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Recent hospital rate hikes are raising renewed concerns about the affordability of health care in the Green Mountain State. It comes as the Green Mountain Care Board, the state entity that regulates spending, is seeing a turnover in its membership.

The University of Vermont Medical Center was granted a 14.7% rate hike this week, driven largely by wages for traveling nurses, inflation, and stress on the state’s elder care and mental health systems.

“The whole set of Vermonters who get their insurance through their employer -- that’s the group that’s particularly hit by this this year,” said Mike Fisher, the state’s health care advocate.

This year UVMMC will receive additional federal funding and they have $20 million on hand from a paused mental health facility to fall back on. The state’s largest hospital had sought an almost 20% increase, but even 14.7% has some concerned the hike will lead to higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. “People will get priced out of the ability to get the care that they need, the care that their doctors recommend,” Fisher said.

Health care spending in Vermont makes up about $6 billion, or one-fifth of the state’s economy. The Green Mountain Care Board has been tasked with trying to reel in that spending.

“I’m sure the Green Mountain Care board did their due dilligence and thought this was the right approach,” Governor Phil Scott said Tuesday.

Scott recently appointed two new members -- UVMCC ER doctor David Murman and Owen Foster, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on some of the state’s largest health care fraud cases.

new members of the GMCB, David Murman and Owen Foster.
new members of the GMCB, David Murman and Owen Foster.(WCAX)

“I think it’ll allow me to come in with sort of a broader view of the issues we have here in Vermont,” Foster said. He says his top priority is transparency. “Making sure we’re communicating with the public effectively and in an understandable way. Additionally, I want to make sure we’re hearing all of the right voices, not just the industry, not just the hospitals, but Vermonters.”

“We interface with so many parts of the health care system, so I hope to bring those experiences and patient stories and colleague stories to the board,” Murman said.

Murman says there are many facets of Vermont’s healthcare system that are working well, but others that could be improved, such as access to long-term care for seniors.

Murman will serve a six-year term and Foster’s runs for two years. Robin Lunge, a Shumlin appointee on the GMCB, was also reappointed for one additional year. The new members will face a mountain of work including reducing wait times for primary care, and reforming mental health and long-term care. And on top of that is the job of keeping rural hospitals financially sustainable - Nine of Vermont’s 14 hospitals finished last year in the red.

The new board members will start in October and say they’re up for the challenge of balancing health care quality, access, and affordability. “There’s a lot of institutional knowledge on the board and we have a diverse group of members,” Foster said.