When he was governor, Peter Shumlin made a big push on health care reform. It didn’t end well for reform or for Shumlin. Since then, the system has become less functional and more expensive but there’s been no appetite for another push.
With one major exception, and that’s OneCare Vermont. It has soldiered on in its effort to rein in health care costs by paying providers for outcomes rather than treatment. It has spent a tremendous amount of money, but so far there’s not much evidence of impact.
That’s troubling, and it’s more so when you read VTDigger’s piece about the latest Green Mountain Care Board meeting. Beyond that, there’s a broader critique of our health care system in a recent series of essays by journalist and health care policy analyst Hamilton Davis. Taken together, it looks like a huge sector of our economy (upon which our physical and financial well-being depends) is drifting along with a bunch of people who call themselves “Captain” staying as far away from the helm as they can.
The Digger article makes the leaders of OneCare look like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The GMCB, especially its new members, were asking questions that shouldn’t have been tough to answer. For instance, do you have any evidence that your system is working? Can you point to measurable results in terms of cost savings or improved outcomes?
OneCare leaders seemed to be taken aback by this line of questioning.
Did you know that the Scott administration Covid policy isn’t aimed at reducing illness? Nope, they don’t care about that. The governor himself has said, over and over, that his goal is to prevent Vermont’s health care system from being overwhelmed. As long as the caseload is manageable, he’s fine.
Well, yeah, he’s fine.
But there’s a problem with that “set the bar low and jump over it” policy goal. It’s already failing. The health care system is already in crisis. It just hasn’t completely blown up yet.
And that’s only because of heroic and unsustainable efforts by health care workers and staff. The administration is desperately trying to patch things together and prevent a total blowup, and that’s all it cares about. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith has taken to giving weekly updates on efforts to add more subacute inpatient beds (to hustle patients out of the hospital as quickly as possible) and ICU beds — and the state is paying God knows how much to staff those extra beds.
I’ve also heard that the University of Vermont Medical Center is relying heavily on temporary nurses because it’s so short-staffed. If that’s the case at our crown jewel, imagine what’s happening in smaller facilities. Temporary nurses are in such high demand that they can almost write their own tickets, and the temp-staff agencies are making out like bandits. (Those agencies charge up to 100% of the staffer’s salary.)
The administration is willing to do anything, at any cost, because they don’t want to see Covid patients parked in emergency rooms or triaged for lack of resources. It’s not about quality of care of public health, it’s about avoiding a PR nightmare.