Legislature passes health care reform bill in the last hours of 2015 session

Before closing out the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers came to agreement on a health care reform package that moved forward important reform policy, and made necessary financial investments.

The three million dollar package that passed the legislature is a shadow of the 90 million dollars originally proposed in the governor’s budget address, but it does contain a number of important VPIRG backed provisions.

Despite the small financial investments made in the bill, S.139 did move Vermont a major step forward in providing health care price information to consumers. Last summer, VPIRG called on the Green Mountain Care Board to use existing price information to allow consumers to compare the costs of services across the state, and this advocacy continued at the State House this session.

In the end, the bill requires all insurers who cover more than 200 Vermonters to provide an online tool allowing customers to compare prices for health care procedures and services. The bill also requires that the Board evaluate the ways that existing information could be used to better help consumers compare and save when they make health care decisions.

The bill also funded necessary services to support Vermonters getting their insurance through Vermont Health Connect. The bill maintained funding to the Health Care Advocate’s consumer assistance program, and finical assistance for out of pocket costs incurred by low and middle income Vermonters. Both these important programs were not funded in the legislature’s budget, and would have negatively impacted thousands of Vermonters if they were not passed this session.

Finally, the bill made important investments in continuing efforts to change how we pay for health care coverage including a study on how to implement primary universal care coverage and funding for the Green Mountain Care Board to move forward with an all-payer model. The study is seen by many as a first step to getting back on track to creating a publicly financed universal health care system, and the Green Mountain Care Board’s work will move us closer to paying for value in health care not volume.

The work of reforming Vermont’s health care system now moves to watchdogging the Green Mountain Care Board’s regulatory process, and the implementation of necessary changes to Vermont Health Connect.

Key provisions of S.139

  • Maintains assistance to low and middle income Vermonters to cover out of pocket insurance costs.
  • Requires insures to provide customers with a tool to compare the prices of health care services.
  • Funds the Green Mountain Care Board’s work to transition our system to one that pays for value not volume.
  • Calls for a study on how Vermont could provide primary care coverage for all Vermonters.
  • Maintains funding for the Health Care Advocate consumer assistance program.
  • Makes targeted investments in strengthening Vermont’s primary care programs.