Health care regulatory board faces pivotal budget season with no leader

Jessica Holmes
Jessica Holmes in 2017. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

With the start of Vermont’s hospital budget season 10 days away, Gov. Phil Scott has not yet been appointed a new chair of the Green Mountain Care Board.

The five-member board regulates hospital growth in Vermont. Its outgoing chair, Kevin Mullin, often casts the deciding vote between the board’s conservative and liberal camps. Mullin’s departure could thrust the board into gridlock as health care costs continue to spiral upward.

Mullin announced his departure in April but said at the time that he would stick around for budget season should Gov. Phil Scott needs more time to pick a successor. Last month, Scott’s press secretary, Jason Maulucci, said the governor intended to appoint a new chair by the end of July.

But at Wednesday’s Green Mountain Care Board Meeting, Mullin announced he was immediately vacating the seat after the governor appointed member Jessica Holmes to serve as interim chair. The following day, the Scott administration told Vermont Public that a new chair would likely be appointed by the end of the summer.

This year’s budget hearings begin Aug. 15. The board is expected to vote on these budgets by September, in time for fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1.

Most of Vermont’s nonprofit hospitals have requested steep increases in what they charge commercial insurers and their enrollees. If the care board approves these increases, privately insured consumers could see steep increases in their premiums next year.

In an written statement Friday, Maulucci sidestepped questions about the reasons for the delay or the potential of a four-member board in this year’s hospital budget cycle.

“The Governor has every confidence in interim Chair Holmes and the current GMCB members to perform their duties well in the coming weeks until a permanent chair is named,” Maulucci wrote. “We are moving as quickly as we can to appoint a permanent replacement to Chair Mullin and will announce a decision as soon as we are able.”

The relationship between the administration and the board, a semi-autonomous body, has sometimes been frosty. Earlier this year, Scott called for “active oversight” of the board, but state statutes give Scott only one lever: nominating — or not nominating — board members from a list compiled by a committee.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, who is a part of a committee that nominates potential board members to the governor, said it worked quickly to compile a list in June. Lyons said she did not know why the nomination process had stalled, but said Scott may still be reviewing finalists.

Another possibility, she said, is that the Scott administration is using its nominating power to exert control over the board by leaving the position vacant.

“I think it’s inappropriate for the governor to decide that he’s not going to appoint and to force some conflict on the board or some difficulty on the board that will make it look weak,” she said.

Maulucci countered Scott isn’t looking to weaken the board.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he added. “We’re committed to working with the Board, the Legislature and others.”

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