Legislative review: Health care dominates the agenda

I have re-drafted this communication to you multiple times over the past two weeks in response to specific current issues and events. I will try to update you as I have on other specific bills moving through the statehouse, but I really want to get this out today, and so this update will be primarily about health care, with a few other issues at the bottom of the email.
You can find Rep. Elder’s and my Town Meeting report online at bit.ly/2UDdxPd. I thoroughly enjoyed attending all of our town meetings in Addison-4, and getting the chance to talk with many of you. Rep. Elder and I also had another great community forum. The next forum is scheduled for Monday, March 25, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. We are hoping to hold it in Monkton, but have yet to find a venue.
House Health Care Committee
The assumption made in a recent letter from members of the group Vermont Healthcare for All (bit.ly/2O5h2vo) is that the work our committee is doing is unnecessary, because what we really need is a publicly financed universal health care system. And because we are focused on “market stabilization,” we are not interested in such a system.
I see this as a false dilemma. We need to work on both. The advocates that wrote the editorial are correct — the way we finance health care is denying people access to affordable quality care. And — I can’t sit by and let the Trump administration make it even harder for Vermonters to get access to health care.
I have been an advocate for a publicly financed universal health care system for many years, and still am. It has been quite frustrating for me and others on my committee that while we work toward that goal, we must address problems created by federal attacks on our health care system, and other issues. And so, we are and will be actively working on both. I and others on my committee continue to push for a universal system on a regular basis, and were instrumental in ensuring that part of our omnibus bill is to explore a regional system this year. I am very grateful for the tireless work of health care advocates, and look forward to continue to work with them and the many other stakeholders.
Without the work we are currently doing in our committee, Vermonters would experience even higher premium rate increases because of fracturing risk pools into smaller groups of people. We know this well — “everybody in, nobody out” — we need as large of a pool of people paying for health care as possible, and until the day it isn’t so, right now that means working with a health insurance system.
The individual mandate was part of that shared responsibility rationale — in order to keep costs down for everyone, we need everyone in. Our committee work has specifically identified exemptions for people that cannot afford insurance, including middle income people that reach the “benefit cliff.” If we don’t have enough people in the system, more people get their much-more-expensive care in the Emergency Department, and the cost of uncompensated care goes up, which drives the costs up for the rest of us.
In addition, if our committee wasn’t doing this work, we could face pre-existing condition exclusions again: Loss of mandatory essential health benefits, loss of no-cost preventive care, no hardship exemptions and loss of a ban on lifetime or disease specific limits. Young adults could no longer be covered until they are 26.
The House Health Care committee has also been working hard to make sure that the dire lack of access to mental health services is resolved. After taking hours of testimony from organizations that provide critical mental health services in Vermont and from government staff representing the governor’s budget proposal, our committee drafted this memo.
Other important issues:
Child Care
I’m very excited about H.194 — an act relating to establishing incentives for early learning professionals and improving access to childcare. It is in House Human Services. This bill will address 3 main areas: capacity, access/affordability, and workforce. The aim is to increase the number of high quality slots available, particularly for infants and toddlers; increase financial assistance through the Child Care Financial Assistance Program; and incentivize workers through a form of tuition reimbursement. I’ll be joining legislators in greeting parents, children and educators tomorrow, Wednesday the 13th, at the statehouse.
2018 Annual Progress Report — check out the comprehensive report from Energy Action Network
The report shines a spotlight on how meeting Vermont’s energy and emissions commitments will require state action far beyond what is already occurring, with major benefits awaiting Vermonters and the state economy.
Having completed committee work on Broadband, the House Energy and Technology Committee will begin work on weatherization along with other issues significant to Climate Change. House Human Services has the Weatherization bill generated from the Bristol Energy Committee.
Dental Care
S.94 is an act relating to expanding Medicaid beneficiary’s access to dental care and establishing the VDent dental assistance program. When the bill comes to the House, I would like to amend to remove the $510 Medicaid cap for extraction of infected and hopeless (dental definition) teeth, independent of the overall maximum for benefits.
In closing, I’m loving working hard for and with you, hearing from you (even when we disagree), and seeing you at our forums and when you visit the statehouse.
Mari Cordes is the Vermont state representative from Lincoln.

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