In March, the Vermont Legislature passed two solid pieces of legislation to address the COVID-19 outbreak. The first provided continuity of operations in state government--no doubt an important measure during these times when practicing social distancing is a must. The second included a wide array of policies, including the expansion of telemedicine, an easing of the licensing regulatory burden for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, a strengthening of the unemployment insurance system, provisions allowing retired doctors to practice during the outbreak, and more.
Over the last month and a half, Governor Scott has taken a number of other actions that have helped the state’s response, including securing essential federal funds, coordinating a state of emergency, providing tax relief to individuals and small businesses, directing insurers to cover COVID-19 testing costs without burdening patients, and more. I am immensely thankful for the hard work of the Governor and his team who have been leading us through these incredibly challenging times.
These are strong, important, and bipartisan measures. But they are just the beginning of what is needed. There is much more work to be done.
States have an opportunity to pick up the slack left by the federal government and enhance their responses. The Foundation for Government Accountability has outlined a number of policies states could implement to help address the crisis, including (but not limited to):
- Expanding low-cost, short-term health insurance plans for those out of work;
- Supporting patients with substantial medical bills through credit protections;
- Suspending burdensome Certificate of Need (CON) laws that stifle medical investments;
- Granting medical education credits for health care professionals on the front lines;
- Changing rules to support flexible work and at-home businesses; and
- Holding businesses harmless on their Unemployment Insurance (UI) taxes.
That’s not all. The Kaiser Family Foundation has highlighted some states that have provided grace periods for insurance premium payments, enacted waivers for prior authorization requirements, and more. Meanwhile, California has launched a website to help those out of work due to COVID-19 find jobs. And right across the river, New Hampshire has provided relief for late payment of property taxes.
These are all just some of many common-sense measures that Vermont legislators and the Governor should consider as they move forward with the state’s COVID-19 response.
And when this crisis is over, lawmakers and Governor Scott ought to make permanent the solutions that worked. For example, if access to telemedicine works during a crisis, there’s no reason it should just be limited to one--especially considering Vermont’s rural nature.
Let’s join together and bolster Vermont’s policy response to this pandemic with reasonable measures to address the crisis.
This commentary is by Don Turner, a former Republican state representative from Milton, former House minority leader, current Milton town manager and longtime member of the Milton Fire and Rescue departments. He was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018.