Yes. As the Legislative session in Montpelier continues, a wide variety of health and healthcare related topics are still under active consideration. These are very dynamic discussions and the details being pursued on any given topic can shift rapidly. Working with our colleagues at the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS) and with members of our local Legislative delegation, the NMC team tries to stay current with their discussions and provide input on how various options might impact our community. Here are perspectives on some of the issues we are following this session:
The effort to address obesity’s impact on health and healthcare costs in Vermont by using tax policy to decrease consumption of sugary beverages continues to be debated. There has been significant advocacy relating to the importance of selling these drinks as well as advocacy relating the impact of these drinks on our health, with sugary beverages now being the leading source of calories for Vermont’s youth. Increasing the tax on tobacco products is an evidence based strategy that has helped decrease Vermont’s smoking rate, which positively impacts health and helps avoid costly healthcare interventions. Experience elsewhere in the country indicates that a tax on sugary beverages can have similar impact on consumption – which should translate into improved health and, long term, reduced demand for care and lower healthcare costs. With the need for revenue within the State budget process, this may receive further consideration in this session or it may end up being something addressed in the next session.
Earlier this session, the House passed a bill that partially financed the State budget with increased tax revenues created by placing cap on tax deductions, including certain charitable donations. NMC joined VAHHS and other not-for-profit organizations in expressing formal concern that efforts which discourage charitable giving in any way are very problematic for organizations who rely upon philanthropic support to pursue their missions within the community. Diminished donations either result in unmet needs and possibly corresponding increased demands on State funding. As such, I believe that this is a counter-productive tax strategy. Rather, I believe we should be encouraging personal giving and rewarding generosity to help fund charitable missions within our communities.
Vermont’s approach to vaccinations is also under current consideration. Vaccinations play a crucial role in public health and the nation has begun to see the impact of unvaccinated children, with various measles outbreaks. This is preventable illness that results in increased healthcare services and, therefore, higher healthcare costs. Research has shown the safety and importance of vaccinations and I’ve shared how impactfully Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Harry Chen has spoken on the topic. Currently, there are discussions within the Legislature about eliminating the “philosophical exemption” from childhood vaccinations, while maintaining the other existing exemptions (for those who oppose vaccinations for religious reasons, etc.). Doing so would help protect Vermonters, particularly Vermont’s children, from the types of outbreaks being seen elsewhere in the country. Discussions in the Legislature are focusing on the balance between individual rights and the impact of individual’s decisions on the health of others. I totally understand and respect the importance of individual rights and decisions, that being said an immunization decision impacts not only the individual but the entire community.
Meanwhile, well-intended attempts to increase the State’s funding of Medicaid to eliminate the burden of the cost shift on businesses and individuals with commercial insurance are caught up in debate around the funding mechanism of a payroll tax. This is an important conversation. As important to the providers as it is for the State to be a better payer for services within their Medicaid program, it is equally important that improvement efforts result in actual financial relief for businesses and individuals in the form of true reductions in premiums that are not immediately offset or exceeded by payroll tax.
As these important topic and others move through the Legislature, it is key that local voices are heard and various perspectives discussed. One of the beauties of Vermont is our strong access to our elected officials. Members of the Franklin and Grand Isle Legislative delegation have proven to be very receptive to local input. Please join me in actively engaging our elected officials in discussions of these important topics. Together, we can map out the best path forward to a healthier Vermont.
— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer