BCBS Report: Health Care Bill Approved

For the Week Ending February 24, 2012 

The Democratic majority in the Vermont House flexed its muscles last week and easily powered through a health care bill establishing state-specific characteristics for the federally-mandated health insurance exchange required in all states beginning in 2014. H.559 was approved and sent to the Senate on an 88-38 vote.

The majority easily defeated minority amendments to modify the House Health Care Committee’s recommended version of the bill during a two-day debate. The House concurred with its committee’s recommendations that all individual and small group insurance plans be offered through the exchange, thus eliminating any benefit choices outside the exchange. The Governor and Democratic leaders had earlier made concessions on the size of employers in the exchange and added a lower cost option to the selection of products offered on the exchange.

As passed by the House, individuals and employer-sponsored groups with less than 50 employees will be required to purchase their benefits through the exchange beginning January 1, 2014. The bill (H.559) also clarifies the role of the new Green Mountain Care board for hospital budget reviews, certificate of need applications, and insurance rate reviews. The bill establishes a limit on prescription drug out-of-pocket costs in benefit plans, and other provisions unrelated to the exchange.

Friday’s Senate debate on a bill addressing the loss of the state hospital in Waterbury due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene did not go as smoothly as the House passage of H.559, however. Already passed by the House and on the floor of the Senate with a favorable recommendation from its Health and Welfare Committee, the final vote on the bill was postponed until Wednesday of this week as senators reacted to an unexpected administration announcement that up to 80 state hospital employees could be lose their state jobs due to the transfer of services to other facilities.

H.630 would construct a new, smaller state mental health hospital in Central Vermont and utilize private facilities around the state to provide services for the remaining patients. The state employees union raised concerns and many legislators expressed concern over the fate of those employees and whether they might be hired by the private facilities.

Also last week, the Agency of Administration Secretary Doug Racine presented the Senate Health and Welfare Committee with a substitute proposal for an enhanced autism mandate bill (S.223). Racine recommended limiting the age group covered from any age

to 21 years and also recommended the mandate cover all early developmental disorders rather than just those on the autism spectrum. The bill as introduced would cover a person of any age for treatment for any autism spectrum disorder. The committee will take additional testimony this week.

This week, the House Health and Welfare Committee will return to a discussion on how health insurance broker fees should be billed. The House committee declined to include an amendment to H.559 in committee but promised to consider it separately from H.559. A House member proposed an amendment during the full House debate on H.559 but withdrew it before it could be considered.

Also this week, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee will hear from BISHCA Commissioner Steve Kimble on expanded health insurer reporting (S.200), a controversial bill regarding immunizations (S.199), and an expanded autism mandate (S.223).

If you are interested in this week’s Legislative Committee Meeting schedules, agendas, and a listing of other meetings and activities, please visit the Vermont Legislature’s website at http://www.leg.state.vt.us/Committee01.cfm Committee meetings are normally updated daily, and are subject to change without notice. If you plan on attending, you may want to call ahead to verify the agenda.

For more information on legislative proposals, visit the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont website at www.bcbsvt.com or call Leigh Tofferi at (802) 223-6131 or Kathy Parry at (802) 371-3205. If you wish to discontinue receiving these updates or know of anyone else who would like to receive it, please call Kathy Parry or send an e-mail to parryk@bcbsvt.com

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