Maier takes on health care reform from brand new vantage point

WILLISTON — For the past six years, Rep. Steve Maier has been helping shape the state’s health care reform policy from the Statehouse chambers.The Middlebury Democrat will now implement that policy in line with the new state job he officially started on Monday: The Department of Vermont Health Access’s (VHA) “Health Care Reform - Health Information Technology Integration Manager.”“I’m pretty excited to get started,” Maier, 54, said during a phone interview during his first day on the job with the VHA.“This is a new phase in my life,” he added. “There is a little bit of anxiety, but I’m really excited to get going.”Maier decided to take a pass on a sure-fire, fifth consecutive term representing the Addison-1 district in the Vermont House in order to take the newly created VHA job, which he said has received funding for the next four years. Maier would have returned as chairman of the House Health Care Committee, a panel that has helped legislate some major reforms — such as the state’s Catamount Health plan for uninsured and under-insured Vermonters.Maier saw the VHA job as a chance to play a role in implementing health care reform at the consumer level.“We are trying to re-engineer the plane while we are still flying it,” Maier said metaphorically of the challenges of changing a massive health care system that is already operating, though not as well as some people would like.Maier described his new job as being akin to “changing positions” on the state’s health care reform team.“While I have changed my position on the team, I am still on the team that is going to make (health care reform) happen in Vermont,” Maier said.It’s a team effort being led by VHA Commissioner Dr. Susan W. Besio, who in a press release indicated Maier’s job was created in response to “expanded responsibilities for Vermont under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the federal stimulus law) to coordinate implementation of health information technology policy with Vermont’s broader health delivery system reforms.”The VHA sees health information technology as a major area in which the state can make some changes to promote a more efficient sharing of patient information between hospitals and physicians, which in turn should save some the system some money. Maier noted that Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington has already made great strides in digitizing hospital records and allowing them to be accessed electronically within the hospital’s vast network of physicians and specialists. This has eliminated more costly paperwork and bureaucratic logjams. It will be part of Maier’s job to see if more strides can be made in digitizing medical records.Maier’s duties, according to Besio, will also include “development and use of telemedicine resources; expansion of health information technology resources to mental health and substance abuse services providers; and assisting in the statewide implementation of Vermont’s Blueprint for Health.”The VHA and Maier will also be asked for reactions to three health care design options that are being developed by Dr. William Hsiao, a professor of economics at the Harvard University of School of Public Health. Hsiao is expected to unveil the three options — a state-run single-payer system; a public option; and a consultant-designed plan — to the Legislature in January.Besio touted Maier’s legislative efforts in dealing with health care reform as making him a good fit for his new job.“Steve understands the Vermont health care system, is deeply familiar with the intent and vision of state policy, and understands the complexities of health care reform as a whole,” Besio said.First elected in 2002, Maier was a member of the House Health & Welfare committee in his first term, then became vice chair and ranking member of the House Health Care committee when it was formed in 2005. He was appointed chairman of the committee in 2007.Maier most recently worked as an independent consultant on environmental, energy and planning issues. He managed the Addison County Solid Waste Management District during the 1990s.Maier and fellow Addison-1 Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, had filed nomination papers to run for re-election this year and were unopposed by Republicans in the two-seat district. Maier withdrew in order to take the VHA post, prompting the Middlebury Democratic Committee to recruit a new candidate to run in his place. Democrats interviewed two candidates — Paul Ralston and Amy Sheldon — and selected the former by a narrow margin.<em>Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].</em>

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