Legislative Update – March 2022

As you read this, the Legislature is on its town meeting recess, and we are approximately half-way through the 2022 legislative session.

When we return March 8, policy committees will have one week to vote potential legislation out of committee. This process then allows the other body time to do its own analysis and debate. The House Committee on Human Services will be completing its work on bills focused on the developmental disabilities system of care, responses to both the opioid settlement and the increasing number of deaths, and improving the system of support for families living in deep poverty to become work ready. Future articles will explore those in detail.

This column will focus on several health and human services initiatives that have already passed the House and are awaiting action in the Senate.

The federal child tax credit puts money directly into the wallets and checkbooks of families with children. It’s credited with helping people pay rent and buy food and reducing food insecurity by 25 percent. For parents with more income, the credit has helped with mortgage payments and credit card, student loan and car debt. Along with the chairs of the House committees on education and ways and means, I co-sponsored a state version of the child tax credit.

H.510 passed the House in February and would create a payment of $100 a month for every child age 6 and under and will lift families with young children out of poverty. It will also encourage young families to move to Vermont, or to stay in Vermont and thrive. Our laser focus on young families addresses two important goals: reducing poverty for young children and meeting our demographic challenges.

The bill also included an increase in the Social Security tax exemption to improve on changes we made three years ago. Anyone living exclusively on Social Security already receives these benefits tax free, but this bill will allow moderate-income seniors to use their payments for food and other living expenses. As of early March, this bill is being considered by the Senate.

Health care is expensive enough, so being confronted with an unexpected charge is a shock. The House passed H.489 to ensure state compliance and enforcement of the federal No Surprises Act. That law addresses situations in which patients receive an unexpected medical bill, also known as a balance bill, when they unknowingly receive care from providers that do not participate in their health plan and therefore are out-of-network.

The insurance provider denies the claim for payment to that provider and the patient becomes responsible for the entire bill. For example, the patient may go to an in-network hospital for knee replacement surgery with an in-network orthopedist but receive a bill from an out-of-network anesthesiologist. If you have concerns about a surprise bill, you should contact the Office of the Health Care Advocate (vtlawhelp.org/health) or the Department of Financial Regulation (bit.ly/3sq6qNp) or call them at (802) 828-3301. This bill will be taken up by Senate Finance after the town meeting recess.

Vermonters have an opportunity to see significant savings on their health insurance costs because of extended subsidies under the American Rescue Plan Act. Those directly enrolled in the individual market can roll over to Vermont Health Connect with no change in benefits and gain the advantage of federal subsidies.

Between $58 million and $76 million is available to Vermonters in subsidies for plan year 2023. Check out the Vermont Health Connect page to learn more about potential savings.

As we celebrate our local democracy this week, I am keeping the citizens of Ukraine defending their country in my prayers. We need to support democratic values across the world and stand up with truth and solidarity against authoritarianism. We are so lucky to live in Vermont, and I’m honored to be one of your four South Burlington representatives.