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Health

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Scott Names Two to Green Mountain Care Board

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 5:57 PM

Sen. Kevin Mullin - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Kevin Mullin
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday appointed two new members to the Green Mountain Care Board, the body that oversees the health care industry in Vermont. The governor tapped Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) to serve as the board's chair and veteran financial executive Maureen Usifer to a second vacancy. Both appointments are effective immediately.

The GMCB had been struggling since early January to conduct its business with only three of five seats filled. The board could only hold meetings if all three were in attendance, and a unanimous vote was required to approve most items. Last week, the board put off action on a proposed surgical center in Colchester because it could not attain unanimity.

Scott noted during a Montpelier press conference Wednesday that he had heard "the cries for help from the board last week" and made his selections as quickly as possible.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

House Dems Narrowly Win Vote On Teacher Health Care Negotiations

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 12:39 AM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (center right) and Rep. Kate Webb (center left) huddle with fellow legislators and staff Wednesday in a Statehouse copy room. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (center right) and Rep. Kate Webb (center left) huddle with fellow legislators and staff Wednesday in a Statehouse copy room.
Vermont House Republicans nearly pulled off a stunning upset late Wednesday night as they faced off against the Democratic majority over which side had the better plan to capture savings from new, cheaper health insurance policies for teachers.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) had to cast a rare vote to counter a 74-73 tally that was favoring the Republican position. By forcing a 74-74 tie, Johnson defeated a GOP amendment that would shift teacher health care negotiations from the local to the state level.

The dramatic vote came at 10:30 p.m. after a long day of backroom negotiations followed by floor debate. Republicans would have won if two of their supporters — Reps. Marcia Martel (R-Waterford) and Jim Condon (D-Colchester) — were present.

“In nine years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rep. Adam Greshin (I-Warren), who joined Republicans on the issue.

“It’s the closest I’ve ever come to winning,” said House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton). “Unbelievable.”

Democrats prevailed in a subsequent vote to leave health care negotiations at the local level. Under that plan, any savings generated would be used to lower property taxes. That amendment passed by an 81-56 vote at 11:10 p.m.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Vermont House Backs Paid Family Leave

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 8:08 PM

Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) speaks for a paid family leave bill Tuesday on the House floor. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) speaks for a paid family leave bill Tuesday on the House floor.
The House voted 89-57 on Tuesday for a program that would provide Vermonters up to six weeks of paid family leave by requiring workers to chip in.

The bill is not expected to pass the full legislature before lawmakers adjourn for the year, likely later this week. House Democrats nonetheless chose to tackle the issue as part of a packed agenda Tuesday so that the bill will be ready for possible Senate action when legislators return next January.

Supporters touted paid family leave as good for both the economy and workers' well-being.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Senate Confirms Lunge for the Green Mountain Care Board

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 5:44 PM

Robin Lunge smiles in the state Senate chamber Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Robin Lunge smiles in the state Senate chamber Thursday.
Without a word of debate Thursday, the Senate unanimously confirmed the controversial appointment of Green Mountain Care Board member Robin Lunge.

"This is a good coming together of the majority and minority of the Senate," said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden).

Lunge was appointed to a six-year term on the board that regulates health care in Vermont in November by then-governor Peter Shumlin. She had served since 2011 as his health care reform director.

But Shumlin's staff apparently never sent the appointment paperwork to the Senate, which by law is charged with confirming the nomination.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Despite Scott's Concerns, Senate United on Lunge Confirmation

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 12:05 PM

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier - DREAMSTIME
  • dreamstime
  • The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier
Despite concerns from Gov. Phil Scott, the Vermont Senate appears poised to confirm Green Mountain Care Board member Robin Lunge without opposition — even from Scott’s fellow Republicans — this week.

Senators are working on a consensus resolution that would acknowledge that former governor Peter Shumlin’s administration made mistakes in the appointment process, but that there was no question he intended to appoint Lunge, according to Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland).

“It seemed like the wisest option,” said Flory — meaning Senate Republicans decided against contesting the appointment.

The Senate is likely to vote on Lunge’s confirmation Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Despite Questions, Senate Plans to Vote on Shumlin Appointee

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 8:42 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and his legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, at a press conference Tuesday - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Phil Scott and his legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, at a press conference Tuesday
For months last year, D.C. politicians dickered over the validity of the president’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination. Now, Vermont has its own nomination fight.

As in Washington, this spat pits Democrats against Republicans.

Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who took office in January, is questioning whether his predecessor, Peter Shumlin, properly nominated Robin Lunge for her position on the Green Mountain Care Board.

“We haven’t been able to find any of the paperwork,” Scott said.

Apparently, official documents detailing her appointment — announced in November — never went from the governor’s office to the Senate, or to the Secretary of State’s Office, as they normally would.

That raises questions about whether Lunge — who has served on the board for more than four months — can legitimately continue to work on the $95,000-a-year job, Scott said. The five-member board oversees health care spending in Vermont; one of its powers is regulating hospital budgets.

The Democratic Senate, which votes on nominees, plans to push ahead with Lunge’s confirmation, possibly this week, said Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chair Claire Ayer (D-Addison).

“We’re going to vote for her,” Ayer said.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Federal Judge Upholds Vermont's End-of-Life Law

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Senators reaffirm the state’s end-of-life law in 2015. - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • FIle: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Senators reaffirm the state’s end-of-life law in 2015.
A federal judge this week dismissed a legal challenge of Vermont’s 2013 end-of-life law that allows terminally ill patients to seek a lethal dose of medication to hasten their deaths.

U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled that two medical organizations failed to show that their members — two doctors, a nurse and a pharmacist who oppose the law for religious and ethical reasons — faced any harm.

“Plaintiffs do not claim that any disciplinary action has been taken against their members,” Crawford wrote in his Wednesday ruling. “There is no credible threat of prosecution of Plaintiff’s members by Vermont’s medical regulators.”

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Burlington Man Upbeat After Injuring His Spine on Ski Slope

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2017 at 7:47 PM

Ryan McLaren, left, and fiancée Adrienne Shea - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Ryan McLaren, left, and fiancée Adrienne Shea
Newly elected Burlington school board member Ryan McLaren is unsure whether he will walk again in the wake of a March 17 ski accident that damaged his spinal cord.

Despite a tough prognosis, 30-year-old McLaren was upbeat Monday in a telephone interview from the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where he is undergoing physical therapy.

“I am OK. I am as good as I possibly could be,” McLaren said in an interview with Seven Days.

He expressed gratitude for all the love and support he has received from family, friends and his fiancée, Burlington lawyer Adrienne Shea.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Scott, Senate Close to Mental Health Pay Fix

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 8:52 PM

Sen. Claire Ayer - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Claire Ayer
The chairs of two key Vermont Senate committees say they are working out a plan to give workers in the mental health system a long-overdue bump in pay, and that Gov. Phil Scott is — at least in principle — on board.

“We have a plan, we’ve got a bill, we’re closing in on exactly how much money we need to do what we want,” said Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, after emerging from a closed-door meeting with Scott Friday morning.

“We agree that there’s urgency to act,” she added. “We’re not in total agreement, but we’re pretty close.”

There’s broad awareness that the entire system is in shambles, with inpatient bed shortages, patients lingering for days or weeks in emergency rooms and low pay for mental health workers.

Ayer’s committee has approved a bill calling for a variety of studies, with an eye toward identifying longer-term fixes in 2018. In the meantime, the bill would establish a minimum $15-an-hour pay rate for all designated agency staffers. Earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) vowed that the pay issue would be addressed.

The price tag was originally thought to be $30 million, but that’s been pared down to less than $15 million because at least half the money would come from federal matching funds. That reduced figure was presented to Scott Friday morning.

“We’re having constructive discussions,” Scott said in a written statement. “There is consensus to try to improve the delivery of mental health services to Vermonters.”

His statement closed with a call to make the fix “budget-neutral.”

The legislation is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee. The crossover deadline for money bills was Friday; committee chair Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) said she would insert language “that would basically articulate our intent to address this funding need. It gives us time to really refine those numbers.”

Kitchel was loath to give a precise figure, but estimated that $16 million would be federal — making the state responsible for roughly $14 million. Her committee will look for ways to further reduce the figure, make it as “manageable” as possible, “and make sure we’re putting the money where the acute need is,” she said.

Possible options for reducing the cost of the wage fix include phasing in wage increases over time and trimming budgets in other areas of the system in anticipation of lower expenses if the staffing crisis eases on the front lines of mental health care.

Postscript: Friday morning’s meeting with Scott was supposed to include all five members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and was listed on the panel’s official agenda. But when the five senators gathered outside Scott’s Statehouse office and saw Your Correspondent waiting outside, they went into a brief huddle with Ashe’s chief of staff, Peter Sterling.

Ayer then entered the governor’s office. A few minutes later, she came out and announced that the meeting would include only her and committee vice chair Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden). The other three members were sent away.

“We just want to have a discussion with the governor, okay?” Ayer said.

“So did I cause this?” I asked.

“Yes, you did,” she said in a cheery voice.

“So it’s not a quorum,” I said.

“It’s not a quorum,” Sterling echoed.

I feel so accomplished. If they can’t think of anything else to put on my tombstone, they can always use “Once Caused a Quorum Kerfuffle.”

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Senate Revives Effort to Raise Smoking Age, But Future Uncertain

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 4:14 PM

Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) speaks in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) speaks in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman broke his first tie Friday on a vote to rescue a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21.

The bill’s prospects remain in limbo, however, as senators later put the bill, S.88, on hold. Supporters indicated that while they had just enough votes to keep the bill alive, they lack sufficient backing to pass it.

“We wanted to give senators more time to be educated on the bill and address some of the concerns,” said Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden), a leading supporter of raising the smoking age.

One of those concerns is money the state would lose by collecting less in cigarette taxes. Under the bill as written, the state would lose an estimated $1.4 million next year from cigarettes not sold to consumers under age 21.

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