Health care regulators consider double-digit budget increases at some Vt. hospitals

Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 6:05 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Health care regulators are considering double-digit increases for Vermont hospital budgets. If some of those new hospital budgets are approved, it would increase what you pay out of pocket.

Top health care regulators will begin considering hospital budgets this week. Like in recent years, health care costs are expected to rise.

“We’re doing more complex care. We are seeing more complex patients, more staff and costs are going up for staff. Equipment is also more expensive,” said Dr. Stephen Leffler of the UVM Medical Center.

Leaders of Vermont’s largest hospitals explained their proposed budgets.

The UVM Medical Center is asking for a 24% increase in the size of their net patient revenue, but what you’ll pay depends on your insurance and other factors.

Leaders say more patients are checking in with more complex and expensive symptoms. And things like medical inflation and increased wages for traveling nurses are also driving up costs.

“If we’re starved in our budgets, it makes it harder to make investments to make people healthier,” Leffler said.

UVMMC, the state’s largest hospital, saw over $100 million in added costs due to inflation.

Some factors are out of our control, like some costs associated with long-term care or prescription drugs. Regulators, who set rates for hospitals and health insurance companies recently told us they are in a balancing act.

“There are a lot of things that are outside of the board’s control and we’re doing the best on what we can regulate to make sure it is operating as efficiently as it can to make sure it’s still meeting everyone’s needs,” said Owen Foster, the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board.

Vermont health care advocate Mike Fisher says when costs go up, people are forced to buy cheaper health care plans with higher out-of-pocket costs.

“Vermonters are forced to make a budgetary decision when they have a health care need rather than a health care decision. It’s the wrong thing we want to do. It interferes with Vermonters getting the right care at the right time,” Fisher said.

The beginning of the now bi-annual budget process comes as nine of Vermont’s 14 hospitals finished last year in the red.

In the long run, Vermont is working to bring down health care spending by rethinking what services should be offered and where, and switching up how money flows through the system. But until then, the hospitals say if their budgets aren’t met, the health of Vermonters will suffer.

“Thinking about those kinds of shifts in health care, it is a big shift. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” said Anna Noonan, the president and COO of the Central Vermont Medical Center.

It’s important to note that the quality of care Vermonters receive is consistently ranked as some of the best. And Vermont is one of the healthiest states, which also keeps health care costs down.

Decisions on the hospital budgets will be issued this fall.

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Vt. hospitals urge regulators to sign off on budget requests