Frank Cioffi: High-quality health care requires thoughtful financial support now

This commentary is by Frank Cioffi of South Burlington, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, a regional economic development organization.

At times, I think we take our health for granted. Until something goes wrong, we are not inclined to think about the incredible facilities and providers that we have available to us.

No doubt, the pandemic touched and awakened each of us in some life-altering way. Over the past few years, members of my family and close friends have had significant medical conditions that resulted in them having to seek treatment and care at the University of Vermont Medical Center. In each of their situations, the medical care they received and the quality of service and treatment was life-changing, life-sustaining and compassionate. 

In such a small state, we are so incredibly fortunate to have the UVM Medical Center, the only Level 1 academic medical center in Vermont and northern New York, serving a population of 1 million people and caring for all of the health care needs of this almost exclusively rural region.

It is essential that we understand that keeping our medical center economically vital is critically important to the economic stability of Vermont and to the health and well-being of Vermonters.

Recently, Gov. Scott wisely and accurately summarized a major concern about the fragility of our health care system:

“Stabilizing our health care system has become increasingly urgent. Our health care system’s ability to provide access to affordable, timely and quality care is very fragile as it emerges from the pandemic and confronts the impacts of deferred care, an aging population, a workforce crisis and the historically high inflation that increases the costs of supplies, energy and staff. With all of these factors, the system is at risk of significant disruption and instability.”

In the current environment, operating a health care facility and system such as the UVM Medical Center is incredibly challenging and our state and federal governments need to step up to provide more financial support and assistance to ensure that financial stability is foundational to providing access to quality care. A hospital should not be forced to use its reserves to subsidize operational costs and endanger its ability to make strategic and necessary investments in facilities, equipment and build capacity, and to sustain the retention and attraction of highly talented nurses, doctors, clinicians and providers. 

Recent actions by UVM Medical Center have shown it is working to address both the workforce and cost inflation threatening its sustainability. In its recent agreement with the union representing its nurses, UVMMC committed to investing $70 million in additional wages and other financial benefits to attract and retain full-time employees. That action clearly demonstrates the medical center’s foresight and its commitment to responsibly retain and attract the best providers and proactively address workforce and cost inflation challenges by transitioning away from the reliance upon travelers and temporary workers. 

Under our current health care system, creating a budget is a math equation, and the only place to go for increased revenue is to commercial insurers. The state of Vermont did not increase hospital reimbursements from Medicaid for the current fiscal year, and Medicare is proposing low or negative rate increases. 

It is critically essential that government payers step up to the plate and cover their share of the expense, recognizing the more we reimburse from Medicaid, the more we draw down federal dollars to support Vermont’s delivery system.

In this region, we cannot separate the financial and policy discussion about health care costs from the high-quality services we all expect to receive for ourselves, our loved ones, our employees and community. 

If we’re to meet the needs of the people of this region, we must have a financially sound delivery system and great people providing care. Investing in our hospitals is an investment in our own health.

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