PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 15
This past week the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took testimony on the prior-authorization issue as regards psychotherapy. Under current budget proposals prior-authorization would be required after 24 visits with an anticipated savings of about $2 million as a result. It was argued that this was an unfair demand under parity laws. Opponents also argued that the imagined savings would prove illusory after staffing was increased to handle the demands of the prior-authorization process. It was also pointed out that psychotherapy is a lot less expensive than the potential for inpatient hospitalization.
Medicaid and More
The Senate Appropriations Committee also heard testimony on the same parity/prior-authorization issue. In addition they heard from advocates on the need for a 3% Medicaid rate increase for the designated and specialized service agencies. The house had a 2% increase in their Medicaid budget. Advocates alsohighlighted the need for community mental health and developmental services to deal with inflation, especially with the reductions in group therapy and ABA reimbursement rates.
The Green Mountain Care Board has been debating where $29 million of hospital surplus should go, with arguments ranging from redistribution – including to some designated agencies – to a direct payback to hospital ratepayers. As of now the Board is locked up in a rare dispute over the issue. They will discuss it further in the near future.
Legal Marijuana is Back in The House
In a move that caught most by surprise, the House Ways and Means Committee revised the bill on marijuana dramatically. While the House Judiciary version had removed the move to legalization preferred by the Senate, Ways and Means turned that decision around, legalizing possession of up to one ounce of the drug and allowing adults to grow as many as two plants per household. Growing your own would require the acquisition of a $125 permit. The Ways and Means vote was 7-4. The vote was along party lines with the one exception of Representative George Till. He was the lone Democrat to vote against the proposal. Till’s argument was that writing a policy bill of this magnitude was not the job of the Ways and Means Committee. The bill’s next stop is House Appropriations, where its reception may be chilly. It is still uncertain whether the House will actually see a marijuana bill come to the floor before the end of the session. The Speaker’s target date for adjournment is May 7, 2016.
Explore: Bill S.241
E-Cigarette Restrictions Move Ahead in The Senate
Largely mirroring the House, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed a bill out of committee that would sharply reduce the use of electronic cigarettes. It would ban their use in places where tobacco smoking is already prohibited. The surprise in the committee deliberations and final vote was the “no” vote from committee chair Senator Claire Ayer. She said that she had yet to convinced of the damaging aspects of secondhand e-cigarette vapors. The bill should be on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Two other smoking-related bills from the House remain in limbo. One would impose a tax on e-cigarettes equivalent to the tax on tobacco. The other would raise the age when an individual could buy and smoke cigarettes from 18 to 21. As the bills came to the Senate late in the session they could both fall by the wayside. The Health and Welfare has just stopped taking testimony for the rest of the session. They would have reviewed the age issue. The Finance Committee could still review the e-cigarette tax.