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Legislative session yields several positive outcomes for YNHHS, patients

Connecticut’s 2021 legislative session, which ended on June 9, included several bills and proposals related to Yale New Haven Health, its’ patients and employees.

Among the YNHHS priorities being addressed during this year’s session was House Bill (HB) 5596, An Act Concerning Telehealth. The bill supported extending the guidelines for telehealth appointments, which have been less restrictive during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure allows healthcare providers and patients to communicate over a broader range of platforms and ensures that insurance companies pay providers the same amount for a telehealth visit as they would for an in-person appointment. Also under the mandate, a greater variety of healthcare professionals can conduct telehealth visits, from behavioral therapists to dentists. 

“Supporting the telehealth bill was a big priority for Yale New Haven Health,” said Kyle Ballou, vice president, Community and Government Relations, YNHHS. “Many of our patients have found that connecting with their medical providers through video or telephone visits has been convenient, efficient and very beneficial, especially during the pandemic. It makes sense to continue to support these options and we are pleased that our legislators agree.” Ballou, along with the government relations team, lobby throughout the year for legislation that will benefit and support Yale New Haven Health, its’ hospitals, patients and employees.

Other bills passed during this year’s session that had the attention of YNHHS included Senate Bill (SB) 683, which addressed hospital billing and collection efforts. The bill modifies selected hospital billing practices, prohibits the collection of certain facility fees and requires the Office of Health Strategy to conduct a study on mergers and acquisitions of physician practices. SB 956, confirming medical assistance to individuals regardless of their immigration status, also passed.

SB 1, An Act Equalizing Comprehensive Access to Mental, Behavioral and Physical Health Care in Response to the Pandemic, passed, declaring racism a public health crisis. Among many other provisions, the bill also establishes a Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health. Prior to its passing, the bill was amended to delete a provision that would have mandated nurse-to-patient ratios in hospital Intensive Care Units. “Generally, Yale New Haven felt that staffing ratios should be based on patient acuity rather than numbers, and that our clinical professionals are best equipped to determine appropriate staffing levels for our patients versus a mandate from the state,” said Ballou.

A major milestone in this year’s session was the unanimous, bi-partisan passage of a biennial state budget. The $46.3 billion plan closes deficits and creates a surplus. Specifically related to hospitals and healthcare, the budget increases PILOT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) to municipalities, increases Medicaid reimbursement rates and provides funding increases to selected health and human services agencies.

Among the bills considered this session that did not pass was SB 1048, which would have required equal reimbursement rates for healthcare facilities regardless of where services are provided. “YNHHS was not in support of this bill,” explained Ballou. “Because our hospitals are teaching hospitals, our operating costs are higher than those of many others. Plus, we pay significant hospital taxes and our Medicaid reimbursements do not cover the cost of care. Our health system cannot afford to be reimbursed at the same rates as many other organizations.”

HB 6550 regarding community benefits, which would have modified hospital reporting requirements, also did not pass this session but will likely be reintroduced in a future legislative session.
A bill largely debated this year which passed during the legislature’s special session addressed the recreational use of cannabis. Ultimately, Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation that legalizes and regulates the use of cannabis in Connecticut. 

YNHHS’ Government Relations team also works with legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly to support legislation beneficial to Westerly Hospital, its patients and employees, as well as the approximately 800 employees that live in the state. A major issue affecting hospitals under debate this session is the approval of the state budget. Governor Dan McKee’s proposed FY2022 budget contains several provisions that impact hospitals, including increases in the hospital provider tax. If approved, the proposed budget will have a significant negative financial impact on hospitals. (At press time, the RI legislative session was still underway.)

“The 2021 legislative sessions have been different, to say the least. All of our outreach efforts to discuss, debate and lobby with our state legislators was completely virtual,” said Ballou. “One vital resource that continues to be extremely effective, though, is our Voter Voice outreach. Once again during the 2021 session, our team reached out to employees for support through the Voter Voice tool which asks that you lend your voice through electronic communication to your legislators in support of, or in opposition to, causes that benefit or negatively impact our patients and our health system. Thank you for your support. It absolutely makes a difference when legislators hear from the voices that make YNHHS a leading healthcare provider in the region.”