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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Two Key Vermont Health Care Programs At Risk Of Losing Federal Funds

Vermont Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille, pictured here in Sept. 2017
Bob Kinzel
VPR File
Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille is very concerned about future funding of two critical health care programs

The Scott Administration says it's concerned Congress will not fully fund two important health care programs in the coming year. If it doesn't the state may have to find the money to put into the programs.

At the heart of the problem is the inability of the Republican controlled House and Senate to agree on budget priorities for the federal fiscal year that started on Oct. 1.

Since then, Congress has passed a series of short term continuing budget measures to avoid a government shut down.

The Scott Administration is anxiously awaiting the renewal of two key health initiatives in a new budget.

The first is the Children's Health Insurance Program known as CHIP.  The second is a network of what are known as Federally Qualified Health Care centers.

There are 12 centers in Vermont. They provide primary care, mental health and dental services to more than 25 percent of Vermont residents.

Al Gobeille is the Secretary of Vermont's Agency of Human Services.

"This is rural health clinics and children's health care. This is a serious issue and I would ask that they deal with it now." — Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille

"Everyone says they do things at the last minute down there but you know this is rural health clinics and children's health care,” says Gobeille. “This is a serious issue and I would ask that they deal with it now."

Gobeille says it would cost the state more than $35 million annually to maintain the programs if they're not renewed at the federal level.

“When you look at that, not having movement on this makes me very nervous,” says Gobeille.   

Rep. Peter Welch says the uncertainty about the future of the programs is likely to continue for at least another month. He expects Republican leaders to pass another short-term spending bill by the end of this week.

"There would probably be some very short term money that would last until the length of the two or three or four weeks that this was in effect but again there's a lot to criticize Congress for on this,” says Welch. “We were supposed to have a budget in place last October." 

"It creates enormous uncertainty for Vermont and our agencies and the work that Governor Scott and the Legislature has to do and it's unnecessary and it's unfair."—Rep. Peter Welch

Welch says Congress is putting states like Vermont in a very difficult position.

"It's now going to be 2018 with no budget and it creates enormous uncertainty for Vermont and our agencies and the work that Gov. Scott and the legislature have to do and it's unnecessary and it's unfair,” says Welch. 

Welch says he's also concerned that long-term funding for the two programs could be at risk. He doesn't believe the new GOP tax plan will stimulate the national economy and that could leave the country with a larger budget deficit.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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