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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Vermont Lawmakers To Consider Public Funding For Universal Primary Care

Senate Health and Welfare chairwoman Sen. Claire Ayer is backing a plan to allow Vermont to purchase some prescription drugs from Canada at much lower costs
Angela Evancie
VPR File
Addison County Sen. Claire Ayer says the state could use a publicly funded program to ensure universal access to primary care in Vermont.

A group of House and Senate lawmakers will try to lay the groundwork next year for a publicly funded system of universal primary care in Vermont.

Three years ago, the push for single-payer health care in Vermont came to an abrupt halt, and not too many lawmakers have looked to resurrect the policy since its dramatic political demise.  

But Addison County Sen. Claire Ayer thinks Vermont can use the single-payer framework for at least a portion of its health care sector. And in January, the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare will take up legislation to move the state in that direction.

“If it’s true, and it appears to be, that access to primary care saves money and results in better health … then we ought to be investing in it in a way that could be useful if we move onto a single-payer system on a nationwide basis,” Ayer says.

Ayer’s bill calls for the creation of a financing plan for universal primary care - in other words, what kinds of taxes would be used to pay for it. It also asks for a “plan of operation.” Ayer says that plan would act as a blueprint of sorts for how the universal primary care program could work.

Ayer says her committee will also try to tackle the issue of rising prescription drug costs during the next legislative session. Ayer says that if Vermont could purchase pharmaceuticals for what they cost in Canada, it could save the state tens of millions of dollars a year in health care costs.

A series of Byzantine regulations at the federal level have thwarted similar efforts at price reduction in the past. But Ayer says the Legislature will explore some new avenues in 2018.

“We are looking at a way to wholesale, become our own wholesaler in the state of Vermont. There is a provision in the Affordable Care Act to do that,” Ayer says.

Ayer says the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare will also be looking for ways to alleviate pressure on a mental health system struggling with capacity issues.

“I’m expecting we’re going to be looking at more beds - beds for geriatric patients, beds for forensic patients - because they’re in our acute care facility and we don’t have any place to send them,” Ayer says.

Patients suffering from acute psychiatric conditions have been stuck in hospital emergency rooms for days in some cases, as a result of lack of available bed space in the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin.

“So our acute care facility has a lot of people there who are not going to move out right away, where there’s supposed to be more flow through the system, so I think that’s going to end up being big,” Ayer says.

Ayer says her committee will be looking at expanding the use of non-opioid treatments for pain management.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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