Vt. regulators OK price hike for Burlington, Berlin hospitals but deny steeper increase

Published: 4/9/2022 10:09:21 PM
Modified: 4/9/2022 10:08:09 PM

MONTPELIER — State regulators decided Friday to allow the largest health network in Vermont to modestly increase service charges at two of its hospitals partway through the fiscal year — but they declined to sign off on the full 10% price hike requested by the University of Vermont Health Network.

By a 3-2 vote, the Green Mountain Care Board authorized Berlin’s Central Vermont Medical Center to raise its services charges by up to 2.7% this year. And, in a separate 3-2 vote, the board allowed Burlington’s UVM Medical Center to raise its service charges by up to 2.5%.

That’s a more than $14 million increase between the two hospitals. The network had asked the Green Mountain Care Board to help cover a $44 million deficit.

By setting a ceiling on the increased charges, board members said, they were giving private insurers some leverage to potentially negotiate lower rates with either hospital.

In a written statement issued after the votes, health network spokesperson Annie Mackin blasted the decisions. Coming “after multiple years of denying hospitals the budget increases necessary to ensure access to services and invest in facilities,” she said, the board had “put at risk major portions of Vermont’s not-for-profit, community-based health care safety net.”

Board members Thomas Walsh and Tom Pelham voted against both midyear increases. Board chair Kevin Mullin, Jessica Holmes and Robin Lunge voted in favor.

“I don’t think that this solves the problem,” Mullin said at Friday’s hearing. “But it recognizes the shoes that the people at UVM are in now, given the nature of the pressures that have been put on each and every one of our hospitals.”

The care board’s decision all but guarantees the two hospitals would end the current fiscal year in the red. But any increase in charges for the network — a major player in Vermont’s health care ecosystem — would likely translate into higher premiums next year for privately insured Vermonters. Businesses that insure their own employees are likely to see some immediate increases in their health care costs.

Both the board and the health network blame government insurers — Medicare and Medicaid — for paying below-market reimbursements for health care and effectively passing those extra costs to commercially insured Vermonters.

In the statement criticizing the board’s decision, Mackin said the health network would review its financial impact and “determine where we can further reduce costs or programs to live within the board’s imposed limits.”

In a statement issued after the hearing, BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont spokesperson Sara Teachout argued that hospitals should be able to balance “both cost pressures and expenses along with all of Vermont’s employers and families.”

Friday’s decision comes just days after the care board denied a midyear request for a 9% increase to Rutland Regional Medical Center, the second-largest hospital in Vermont.

Al Gobeille, the health network’s executive vice president and a former chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, told board members the projected losses “should concern every Vermont resident.”

He warned the network would have to balance its budget by scaling back on some services.

“This is a very serious moment,” he said. “That’s why we came for a midyear request.”

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