While all eyes are on the federal government activity to overhaul health care, here are a few bills recently signed into law in our state:
REFORMING HEALTH CARE: H.444 was signed into law on June 2nd as Act 61. This is a 124 page omnibus bill which positions Vermont to receive ARRA (federal stimulus) money for health information technology. A partial list of features of this bill is as follows: 1) allows farmers and self-employed people to use depreciation as an allowable business expense for reporting income; 2) people who have lost their insurance no longer have to wait twelve months for state-sponsored insurance; 3) asks providers to develop recommendations to coordinate treatment of stroke patients in Vermont; 4) sets up a pilot program to provide vaccines at no cost; 5) bans the use of the flame retardant known as “Deca” which has been found, ironically, to be highly toxic when it burns.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG MARKETING: S.48 was signed into law on June 8th as Act 59. One of the great contributors to rising health care expenses is the cost of prescription drugs. Alarmingly, one-third of every dollar spent on prescription drugs goes into marketing. In 2002, Vermonters spent $377 million on prescription, over-the-counter and nondurable medical supplies. In 2007, this number grew to $572 million or an average increase of 8.7% per year.
According to the April 2009 report of the Vermont Attorney General’s office, pharmaceutical manufacturers reported spending almost $3 million in Vermont on fees, travel expenses and other direct payments to Vermont physicians, hospitals, and universities for the purpose of marketing their products. Testimony cited considerable research that shows that marketing does affect prescription practices.
This act attempts to reduce the real or perceived conflict of interest between manufacturers and providers by increasing transparency and placing limits on gifts. Free samples of prescription drugs resulted in considerable debate in the House. Free samples have been found to affect physician’s prescribing patterns, however, contrary to popular belief, these samples do not go primarily to low-income patients. The House bill required manufacturers to report free samples given to providers however a last-minute compromise with the Senate resulted in exempting free samples from disclosure. It is hoped that these measures will help control costs and improve care. This bill received support from the Vermont Medical Society, the AARP and the mental health community.
PALLIATIVE CARE: H.425 was signed into law on May 18th as Act 25. The purpose of this Act is to improve the quality of life and management of pain for patients facing serious medical conditions. Palliative care addresses relief from symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, shortness of breath, which may be caused by the underlying disease or by side effects of more aggressive interventions. It also addresses physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs, while facilitating patient autonomy, access to information and choice.
This act works toward expanding access to palliative care for children and adults across the state and ensures that Vermonters are aware of their rights and care options through a patient’s “bill of rights.” In addition, it sets a plan to improve the knowledge and practice of health care professionals with respect to palliative care and pain management.
Feel free to contact me at KLWebb22@mac.com or 985-2789. I have posted my previous Shelburne News articles on my website. www.KateWebbVt.com.