Healthcare Roundup

Healthcare Roundup

Several evolvements in the shifting healthcare landscape have made headlines in recent months: 

  • On the national level, Sen. Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer came to an agreement on Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies, extending the subsidies to 2025 with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The subsidies, eligible to those purchasing in the Vermont Health Connect marketplace, were previously set to expire at the end of 2022. 
  • Without those federal subsidies, employees of small businesses would have paid more for health care. The Vermont Chamber participated in the working group, as per H.489 (Act 137), with the Department of Financial Regulation and the GMCB  to make recommendations on maintaining separate individual and small-group health insurance markets. The extension of the ACA subsidies at the federal level provides a longer runway for this work.   
  • Last session, the Vermont Chamber advocated to maintain separate markets, securing $17.7 million in healthcare savings for small businesses. However, premiums are trending up for 2023 as the GMCB’s 2023 rate review forecasts nearly 20% increases.  
  • In September, Governor Scott announced new appointments to the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) adding one new member, Dr. David Murman of Waterbury, and retaining Board member Robin Lunge of Berlin, who will serve on the 5-person board alongside the newly appointed board chair, Owen Foster of Middlebury. The GMCB is charged with balancing increasing health costs and insurance rates without overly burdening ratepayers.  

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RECENT NEWS

Attracting More Workers for a Successful Future

Attracting More Workers for a Successful Future

Vermont continues to lead the nation in addressing complex issues, but we are also experiencing an aging population and a declining workforce. By elevating our achievements, Vermont can attract more workers to ensure a more secure economic future. To do this, we must utilize creative avenues to capitalize on our strengths and promote Vermont as a great place to live, work, and raise a family: 

  • Establish ambassador programs to recruit workers in targeted industries 
  • Build on the successful ThinkVT website and create a comprehensive online toolkit to assist in relocation to Vermont 
  • Expand upon relocation testimonials to create promotional materials highlighting diverse Vermont voices 

 More information on a strategic approach to elevate Vermont’s achievements to address our declining demographics is available, HERE. 

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Child Tax Credit and Military Income Exemption Outcome Uncertain

Child Tax Credit and Military Income Exemption Outcome Uncertain

Tax relief for Vermonters was a top priority for Governor Scott this year, but the measures passed in H.510 did not meet the minimum requirements he outlined, suggesting an uncertain outcome. The bill largely focused on a child tax credit with a price tag of $31.7 million, which would provide an up to $1,000 annual payment to qualified families with children under the age of 5. Unfortunately, this tax credit is not aimed at addressing childcare affordability, a contributing factor to the workforce crisis, and would make funding a childcare system in future years ever more challenging. At issue with the Governor, however, is not the child tax credit specifically but rather his priority to significantly expand the earned income tax credit and provide a full exemption of pensions for military retirees.

Under H.510 only the first $10,000 of income of military retirees would be exempt until social security starts, at which point a military retiree would be required to pick one exemption, either social security or military pension. This modest exemption will get Vermont off the list of States that offer no exemption but does not go far enough to honor the service of military retirees or make Vermont an attractive option for the retention and recruitment of these retirees to start a second career here. These differences may ultimately be enough to gain the Governor’s support even though they don’t include all of his priorities.

Manufacturing Tax Exemption Passes

Manufacturing Tax Exemption Passes

Expanding the manufacturing tax exemption has passed the House and Senate in the H.738 Miscellaneous Tax bill and is now headed to the Governor’s desk. If signed into law, the expansion would exempt machinery and equipment used in integrated production operations and all ancillary processes between raw materials and finished goods, as well as some secondary packaging processes. The Vermont Chamber advocated for and supported this change, which will modernize Vermont’s tax law, enhance workforce recruitment and retention, modernize facilities, and make Vermont competitive with the 33 other states that have similar exemptions. 

$8.3 Billion Budget Approved

$8.3 Billion Budget Approved

The final bill to pass this session was the $8.3 billion budget, which provides the funding for general government spending and the major policy bills this session. It invested in broadband buildout, childcare providers, and water and wastewater infrastructure to provide communities with the resources they need to attract new workers and families. It provided $50 million for the Vermont Housing Conservation Board, a $20 million investment in the missing middle home ownership development program and manufactured housing, and $20 million for the Vermont Housing Improvement Program to update rental housing units. The budget also allocated a total of $137.8 million in community, workforce, and economic development programs, many of which the Vermont Chamber fought for this session. The budget also included $185 million in energy focused initiatives including weatherization, energy efficiency grants for towns and electrification initiatives. For more budget details, listen to this VPR report.

Omnibus Housing Bill Passes

Omnibus Housing Bill Passes

In the fading hours of the legislative session the omnibus housing bill was passed, a priority for the Vermont Chamber, legislators, and the Governor. Getting to this outcome included difficult negotiations and impassioned speeches to ensure that the meaningful housing provisions could pass without garnering a veto from the Governor, who continually stated his opposition to a change in Act 250 governance included in the House-passed version. That provision is included in S.234 which also passed, but it will undoubtedly be vetoed by the Governor.

Included in the final omnibus housing bill is $15 million for the Missing Middle Homeownership Development program which addresses workforce needs by increasing the supply of housing for middle income earners. There are also funds for manufactured homes, bylaw modernization grants, and an expansion of the priority housing project program. Another housing bill also passed this session and will provide funding to increase the supply of rental units through grants to property owners.

Economic and Workforce Development Bill Passes Despite Veto Concerns

Economic and Workforce Development Bill Passes Despite Veto Concerns

The House and Senate passed a $99.5 million economic and workforce development bill, sending it to the Governor’s desk. For the over 100-page omnibus bill, the Conference Committee put in long hours and late nights to reach a compromise, including a $19 million VEDA forgivable loan program with a cap of $350,000 or six months of operating expenses, and an eligibility criteria based on at least a 22.5% reduction of adjusted net operating income during 2020 and 2021 combined. The bill includes $9 million in creative economy grants and a total of $10 million for the Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program, which  expands eligibility for nonprofits and municipalities doing infrastructure improvements and community development activities. However, the bill only includes a little over $3 million for relocation incentives and nothing for recruitment marketing, which was a priority for the Governor.

The minimum wage hike was deleted from the bill, but the unemployment insurance supplemental benefit provision remained and became even more onerous and expensive for the Department of Labor to administer. Beginning July 1, 2022, the maximum weekly benefit would increase by $60, then sunset in three years or when $8 million is drawn down from the UI Trust Fund. At that point, the benefit would increase by $25 until an additional $92 million is drawn down from the UI Trust Fund. The bill optimistically contains plans for the Department to meet this goal ahead of schedule, which the Department repeatedly testified is not feasible.

The Vermont Chamber worked closely with the committees of jurisdiction and the administration to ensure businesses will receive the support they need to recover. While many of our priorities were addressed, the bill contains absolutely no plan to recruit workers to Vermont, a glaring omission amid the severe labor shortage. Due to this exclusion, the Governor’s veto threat lingers as legislators adjourn.

As Session Winds Down, Vetoes Increase

As Session Winds Down, Vetoes Increase

With a high approval rating and little concern for the campaign season ahead, Governor Phil Scott exercised his veto authority on six bills already in 2022, for a record 29 in his six year tenure. In February, he vetoed a contractor registry, a prohibition of firearms in hospitals, and amendments to the Charter of the Town of Brattleboro to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. Just last week he doubled his vetoes, sending back the pension reform bill, amendments to the Charter of the City of Burlington, and the Clean Heat Standard.

The Legislature had the votes to override the veto of the pension reform , but Governor Scott continues to clearly state which of his priorities are non-negotiable. has signaled that if bills come to his desk with provisions he opposes, or lacking sufficient funding for his priorities, more vetoes will follow. As legislators adjourned, leadership chose not to set a date to return to consider further action on vetoes, giving the Governor the final say leading into election season.

Vermont Chamber Investment in Advocacy Pays off for Businesses

Vermont Chamber Investment in Advocacy Pays off for Businesses

The 2022 legislative session occurred amidst the stark reality that Vermont has 26,000 job openings and an unemployment rate of 2.7%. Even if every one of those nearly 9,000 Vermonters were hired today, we would still have just over 17,000 open jobs. Compounded by the fact that 25,500 less people are participating in the workforce than pre-pandemic, it was clear that the foundation for the Vermont Chamber’s advocacy this legislative session had to be addressing our workforce shortage and ensuring businesses weren’t burdened with new laws that would constrain their ability to emerge from the pandemic. The Vermont Chamber succeeded on most of our initial agenda items, including: 

  • Retaining Vermont workers with investments in training for workers in the trades, nursing, and mental health fields
  • Helping businesses emerge from the pandemic by providing forgivable loans, capital investments, and support for community revitalization and arts organizations
  • Increasing workforce housing supply through the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program and the Missing Middle Homeownership Development Program
  • Providing increased tourism marketing to support the hospitality industry
  • Expanding the exemption of manufacturing inputs from sales and use tax
  • Providing continued savings on health care premiums for small business
  • Recruiting new workers to Vermont with a continuation of relocation incentives and exempting military pensions to attract retirees re-entering the workforce
  • Avoiding new costs like mandated wages, additional unemployment insurance burdens, and technology taxes

While Vermont businesses will continue to battle the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, including a constrained labor force, higher wages, reduced hours, 8.3% inflation, and endless supply chain problems, progress was made on many fronts due to the increased support of our members and our dedicated five-person Vermont Chamber advocacy team. House and Senate leaders on these issues will head into the campaign season with a strong record of supporting the Vermont Chamber agenda, and the Vermont business community. From our annual Vermont Economic Conference, to our State to Main policy podcast series, to supporting the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion initiative, the Vermont Chamber once again set the tone for making Vermont a better, more vibrant place to live, work, and play.

Legislature on Track to Extend Health Insurance Savings for Small Businesses

Legislature on Track to Extend Health Insurance Savings for Small Businesses

H.489 is on track to pass both the House and the Senate allowing $17.7 million in health insurance cost savings to be extended to small businesses and their workers for another year. Last year, the markets were separated because there were federal subsidies that protected individuals from rate hikes. The plan was that the federal government would continue those subsidies, but that has yet to happen. Even so, the Legislature approved the continuation of this direction, hoping Congress will act. Meanwhile, there will be a working group to develop state alternatives to continue the practice without harming either group. This effort is especially timely as provider rates are likely to increase for plan year 2023 as has been forecasted in a mid-year review of hospital budgets at the Green Mountain Care Board.