Report from Montpelier: May 22, 2014

In a two-part series, Shelburne Representatives Joan Lenes and Kate Webb will highlight a number of issues that passed out of the legislature this year. This week: health concern. Next week: education.

Vermont and the Affordable Care Act: Vermont had a very difficult rollout of our health care exchange, as did many other states. Legislative committees spent significant time reviewing system challenges and the ongoing work to improve access to health plans in Vermont Health Connect (VHC). Although the system is still not fully functional for small businesses and is frustrating for people who have needed to make changes to applications, there are some signs of improvement. The Legislature passed a provision so that small businesses will continue to be able to enroll in VHC plans directly through insurers. This will be extended to individuals as well.

Green Mountain Care: As we continue to work our way toward the next stage of health care reform, many have expressed frustrations with the Governor because of a desire for more details on how he will propose to replace our current health care financing system. In 2012, Vermonters spent over $715 million in deductibles and copays and spent over $1.88 billion in premiums. The question is not whether we will raise the money to fund our access to health care, the question is how we can find a way to do it that is fairer, more predictable, provides for better care, and give people more confidence that they won’t have higher costs or loss of coverage if they change jobs.

Lyme disease: Lyme disease is increasingly widespread in Vermont and has become endemic to the state. If identified early, Lyme disease may be successfully treated with a short-term course of antibiotics. If not, complex and ongoing symptoms may require more aggressive treatment. Historically, physicians have been held to a limited number of treatment options recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Many Vermonters did not find these adequate. Starting in July, long-term sufferers may seek expanded treatment options recognized by the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society without putting their health care providers at risk for discipline.

Changes to tobacco laws: Vermonters came forward this year asking for additional relief from second-hand smoke and other tobacco-related concerns. Starting in July, tobacco products and tobacco substitutes will be prohibited in or around childcare centers and smoking in a motor vehicle occupied by a child may result in a $100 fine. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes will be required to use child-resistant packaging to sell liquid nicotine in Vermont. Smoking in and around state buildings will be prohibited within a 25-foot zone.

Protecting children from toxins: The Children Safety Act of 2014 takes a major step forward in protecting children from toxic substances. Manufacturers of children’s products, such as toys, jewelry and cosmetics sold in Vermont will be required to notify the Department of Health if their product contains chemicals that can be harmful to children.

The new Vermont law adopts Washington State’s list of 66 chemicals as the beginning of the list for Vermont to be shown on the Department of Health web site. As research moves forward, other chemicals will be added to this list. In response to a bill introduced five years ago, the industry asked that we wait for the federal government to invigorate the largely dormant Toxic Substance Control Act. Due to continued inaction, Vermont joins Washington, California, and Maine to protect our children at the state level.