Health

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Legislation Gives Women – and Men – Access to Free Birth Control

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 5:21 PM

Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) sponsored a bill on its way to becoming law that guarantees access to free birth control to women and men. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) sponsored a bill on its way to becoming law that guarantees access to free birth control to women and men.
Both women and men are guaranteed access to contraceptives without any cost-sharing requirements under a bill the legislature sent Wednesday to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.

The legislation codifies in Vermont law the guarantee in the federal Affordable Care Act that women will have access to free contraception — in case the federal law gets repealed.

It also expands the federal birth control guarantee by requiring insurance companies to offer vasectomies to men without requiring co-payments or other forms of cost-sharing. Vermont is the first state to mandate this benefit.

The bill also makes Vermont the second state to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of hormonal contraceptives in a single visit.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Grocers, Activists Tussle Over Tweak to GMO Labeling Law

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 4:33 PM

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), proposed delaying when consumers could sue over the presence of non-labeled products on retail shelves. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), proposed delaying when consumers could sue over the presence of non-labeled products on retail shelves.
The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association has been shopping two changes to the law that mandates labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients to smooth the law’s implementation.

One change would prevent consumers from suing should they find non-labeled products on store shelves during the 18 months immediately after the law takes effect. This change would allow retailers time to clear their inventory of products that were legally distributed without labels prior to July 1, said Jim Harrison, president of the retail and grocers association.

The second change would give an exemption to the labeling of food prepared in stores — such as potato salad, sandwiches and baked goods, Harrison said. 

“It wasn’t our feeling that these materially change the law,” Harrison said.

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition has opposed any changes to the law. Andrea Stander of Rural Vermont said retailers have had plenty of time to work out how to deal with inventory and comply with the law.

“This is all part of a national effort to undermine the Vermont law,” Stander said. For example, national grocery and snack food organizations have sued the state, challenging the legality of the law. The lawsuit is pending.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included a provision in the budget bill that would delay the date when consumers could sue over the lack of GMO labels, but not for as long as Harrison wanted. The Senate proposed ending the protection a year after the law takes effect.

“It is a way to protect our small retailers,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia). Product turnover isn’t always speedy in small stores, she said, noting that “a lot of items like pasta have long shelf life.”

Kitchel added, “In no way would this alter the underlying labeling requirements.” The Senate budget bill doesn’t address the exemption for food made in stores.

The House version of the budget didn’t include the provision delaying consumer lawsuits, so the two chambers will have to negotiate whether it is included in the final budget bill.

Todd Daloz, an assistant attorney general, said his office would prefer that lawmakers make no changes to the law so close to the time of its implementation. Daloz noted that the office of the attorney general had established a rule that gives retailers six months to clear their inventories of non-labeled stock.

“Our main goal in the first six to twelve months is enabling compliance,” Daloz said.

He noted that delaying when consumers could sue over non-labeling would not affect enforcement by the attorney general’s office.

Daloz said he opposed granting an exemption to products made in stores. Those could contain the same genetically modified ingredients as items made by big manufacturers, he said.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell wrote a memo in late March advising how his office would enforce the law. “Our enforcement priorities will focus on willful violations of the labeling law,” he wrote. “Thus even after January 1, 2017, we do not expect to bring enforcement cases based solely on a company’s failure to remove improperly labeled products that were distributed before July 1, 2016.”

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

App Made in Vermont for Developing Countries May Soon Benefit American Kids

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Dr. Barry Finette evaluating a young patient in the Philippines. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF DR. BARRY FINETTE
  • File photo courtesy of Dr. Barry Finette
  • Dr. Barry Finette evaluating a young patient in the Philippines.
In 2014, physicians Barry Finette and Barry Heath, both professors of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, launched a new global health care company. THINKmd would address a health crisis that plagues much of the developing world: Each year, more than 6 million children under age 5 die from treatable respiratory ailments because they lack access to pediatric-trained medical professionals.

Their solution was to create a mobile medical platform that enables unskilled health care workers in the field to triage, assess and treat kids in respiratory distress. The product they developed, MEDSINC — short for Medical Evaluation and Diagnostic System for Infants, Newborns and Children — was first field-tested in Bangladesh in April 2015 with positive results.

Now, THINKmd, a Burlington-based Vermont benefit corporation — a type of for-profit business entity with a legally mandated social mission — has signed a memorandum of understanding with Winooski-based Physician’s Computer Company to bring MEDSINC to market here. The reason: Many regions of the United States, including rural areas of Vermont, suffer from a shortage of pediatricians, and MEDSINC could be useful in bridging those gaps.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Senate Panel Supports E-Cigarette Restrictions in Split Vote

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 5:06 PM

A Senate committee voted to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • A Senate committee voted to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes.
The Senate Health & Welfare Committee voted 3-2 Friday for a bill that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in places where smoking is already prohibited, including workplaces, hotels and motor vehicles carrying children.

A similar bill already passed the House, but that version included a ban on placing e-cigarettes on counters in retail stores. The Senate committee deleted that provision.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hospitals Can Give Millions of Surplus Dollars to Community Groups

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2016 at 6:56 PM

The Green Mountain Care Board split over how UVMMC and Central Vermont Medical Center should distribute excess revenues. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • The Green Mountain Care Board split over how UVMMC and Central Vermont Medical Center should distribute excess revenues.
In a rare split vote Thursday, the Green Mountain Care Board decided 3-2 that the University of Vermont Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center can distribute 40 percent of their $29 million in surplus revenues to community organizations. The rest of their extra cash from their past fiscal year will be used to reduce commercial insurance rates.

The plan that the board’s majority approved was essentially what hospital officials put forward two weeks ago. As partners in the University of Vermont Health Network, the hospitals submitted the proposal jointly. The board deleted a proposed $3 million investment in health payment reform initiatives, redirecting that money to rate reduction.

The board wrestled for nearly two hours over what the two hospitals should do with their excess revenues. “We have been together, some of us, for five years, and we have never been at this point,” chair Al Gobeille said of the stalemate. “The real question is, can the two camps come together?”

The answer turned out to be no.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Chittenden Manufacturing Sites to Be Tested for PFOA Contamination

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 6:09 PM

The former IBM site in Essex - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • The former IBM site in Essex
The state will expand its testing for PFOA contamination to locations in Chittenden County where the chemical may have been used in manufacturing processes, and to two sites where fire-fighting foam has been used repeatedly.

The chemical, a possible carcinogen, has already been detected in dozens of private drinking water wells in North Bennington, the former home to a plant that used PFOA to make Teflon products. Subsequent tests found amounts exceeding the state’s standard of 20 parts per trillion in a creek and a pond near the closed plant. A municipal water source in Pownal showed PFOA levels of 26 parts per trillion, slightly above the guideline set by the Department of Health.

Alyssa Schuren, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said her staff researched the industries in Vermont that might have used PFOA to make Teflon, wire coatings or nonstick fabrics. The state plans to coordinate testing of ground and drinking water at and around each of the 11 sites they identified, Schuren said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency will pay for most of the testing.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

House Gives Preliminary Approval to Increasing Smoking Age to 21

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 9:26 PM

Rep. George Till (D-Jericho) argues for raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. George Till (D-Jericho) argues for raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
The House voted 84-61 Tuesday to give preliminary approval to a bill that would raise Vermont’s legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The change would be phased in over three years, beginning next January.

To make up for the loss in tax revenue from tobacco sales, the bill calls for a 13-cent increase in the tax on cigarettes in each of the next three years. A single 13-cent tax hike would raise about $900,000.

The House spent much of Tuesday on this measure. The first vote, to add the tax to the age-change bill, was close: 75 to 68. Critics argued the bill was another excuse to raise taxes.

“This is not a health bill, but just another tax and anti-business bill,” Rep. Ron Hubert (R-Milton) said, explaining his no vote.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Board Is Skeptical About Hospitals' Plans for Excess Revenue

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 7:02 PM

The Green Mountain Care Board discusses how hospitals should deal with excess revenues. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • The Green Mountain Care Board discusses how hospitals should deal with excess revenues.
The Green Mountain Care Board will likely ask the University of Vermont Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center to reduce the rates they charge commercial insurers because of the excess revenues both took in last year.

The two hospitals — which are affiliated under an umbrella organization called the UVM Health Network — posted jointly nearly $30 million in surplus revenues for the fiscal year that ended September 30. UVMMC's excess was $22 million, or 2 percent over budget, while CVMC's was $6.9 million, a 4.2 percent variance.

A week ago, network officials proposed giving $12 million of the combined surplus to community health programs and $3 million to health-payment reform initiatives. They said they would address the remaining $14 million when they submitted their 2017 budgets to the regulatory board for approval in the summer, intending to lower rates for commercial insurance.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hospitals Propose Sharing Extra Revenues With Community Health Groups

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 4:32 PM

COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT MEDICAL CENTER
  • Courtesy of University of Vermont Medical Center
While some hospitals are struggling, the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington and the Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin earned hefty surpluses during the last year — prompting them on Thursday to propose giving millions of dollars to community health care.

The University of Vermont Health Network, the hospital system they belong to, presented the Green Mountain Care Board with a plan for what its two Vermont hospitals would do with nearly $30 million in surplus revenues from the fiscal year that ended September 30.

Under the proposal, UVMMC and CVMC would give $12 million to community health programs. They would invest $3 million in health payment reform initiatives to help move from the fee-for-service model to an all-payer model

The two hospitals would address the remaining $14 million when they submit their 2017 budgets for approval, with the intention of using it to reduce rates for commercial insurance.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bill Would Give Most Vermonters Access to Free Birth Control

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 5:13 PM

Rep. Ruqaiyah Morris (D-Bennington) presented the House bill - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Ruqaiyah Morris (D-Bennington) presented the House bill
The House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would guarantee most Vermonters access to free contraception. The bill comes up for final approval Thursday but Wednesday’s tally — 128 to 15 — seems to assure that it will pass.

Rep. Ruqaiyah Morris (D-Bennington) said the bill would preserve in Vermont the provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act that guarantee women access to contraception, should the federal law be repealed. It also would expand free coverage to male contraception, which isn’t included in the ACA, and provide supplementary payments to health care providers for the insertion and removal of long-acting reversible contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

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