On February 15, 2024
Letters

Protect and strengthen the Green Mountain Care Board, say “No” to Bill S.211

Dear Editor,

Editor’s note: The following was originally written as an open letter to lawmakers.

Senate bill S.211 is an attempt by the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems to free hospitals from appropriate and thoughtful budgetary regulation by the Green Mountain Care Board.

The bill, if enacted, will be an enormous benefit to the Hospital Association’s dominant member, the UVM Health Network. But it will impose greater medical and financial hardships on Vermonters.

Over the past decade, the UVM Health Network has acquired smaller hospitals and practices under the guise of improving care coordination and pirated community-based primary care providers. At the same time, health insurance costs have skyrocketed, primary care doctors, mental health counselors, nurses, and other community-based caregivers have suffered, and the number of Vermonters who cannot afford medical care or prescriptions without the risk of incurring debt has increased substantially.

The UVM Health Network leverages its increased market dominance to demand exorbitant price hikes. In fact, UVM’s price increases are among the highest in the U.S. Consequently, commercial insurers charge higher premiums to all Vermonters, regardless of whether they receive care at a UVM facility.

The Green Mountain Care Board, composed of five healthcare experts and regulators appointed by the governor after a bipartisan vetting process, is charged with serving Vermonters transparently and fairly while adhering to strict open-meeting laws. The board’s regulatory mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of Vermonters in accordance with three core measures: affordability, access, and quality. It is also committed to making sure hospitals and providers have the financial support they need.

In 2023, the Green Mountain Care Board imposed reasonable limits on hospital charges during their upcoming budget cycle. In response, the UVM Health Network and the Hospital Association lobbied Senators to create S.211, which would, in effect, move many of the board’s regulatory duties to the Agency of Human Services, where a single, politically appointed person, the director of health care reform, would handle regulatory work.

This change would diminish the Green Mountain Care Board’s authority and sidestep Vermont’s open meeting law.

The Hospital Association and the UVM Health Network could then direct all their lobbying efforts toward this single individual who could be replaced every two years.

Vermonters cannot let the UVM Health Network’s monopoly power increase further with this proposed change, nor allow it to weaken public regulation over hospital operations and costs.

Despite increasing prices, the UVM Health Network has failed to provide better care for the people of Vermont. Care coordination is still poor, access to care is even worse, and the quality of care is declining. Many Vermont families have a story of long waits for appointments, poor outcomes, poor services, and huge debt after receiving treatment at one of their facilities.

Legislators, business leaders, and all Vermonters must be aware of the risks if S.211 were to pass. It’s a bill designed to ensure that UVM Health Network gets what it wants. It will further enrich its leadership while seriously undermining the health and finances of Vermonters.

Tell your legislators not to weaken the Green Mountain Care Board, but to protect and strengthen it. Tell them to say “No” to S.211.

Signatories:

Don Tinney, president of Vermont-NEA; Aimee Towne, president of Vermont State Employees Association; Cindy Chornyak, co-chairperson, VSEA Benefits Advisory Committee; Deb Snell, RN CCRN, president, Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals; Dan Drish, president, Brattleboro Federation of Nurses, AFT-VT Local 5064; Heather Bauman, president, UVMMC Support Staff United, AFT-VT Local 5223; Patrick Flood, former deputy secretary of the Agency of Human Services; Julie Wasserman, MPH; Sarah Launderville, executive director, Vt Center for Independent Living; Tom Hamilton, executive eirector, Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council; Kirsten Murphy, executive director, Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council; Mollie Wills, director of grassroots organizing, Rural Vermont; Kate Kanelstein and Avery Book, executive director and president, Vermont Workers’ Center; Max Barrows, outreach director, Green Mountain Self-Advocates; Sue Racanelli, president, League of Women Voters of Vermont; Craig Jones, MD, Capitol Health Associates, and former executive eirector of the Vermont Blueprint for Health; Betty J. Keller, MD and president, Vermont Physicians for a National Health Program; Deborah Richter, MD, family physician; Jack Mayer, MD, MPH Rainbow Pediatrics (Ret.); David Schneider, DO, MS-Health Care Transformation, FAAP Pediatrician; Ellen Oxfeld, Vermont Health Care for All; Walter Carpenter, Vermont Health Care for All and Green Mountain Care Board Advisory Committee; Kathy Callaghan, former benefits director, state of Vermont; Ethan Parke, Universal Health Care advocate; William M. Young, former Commissioner of Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services; Laura Zakaras, PhD., RAND Corporation (Ret.)

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