Vermont's 14 hospitals collectively anticipate 3.6 percent growth in their budgets for next year — an increase that some said indicates health reforms are working.
The increase is within the limit set by the Green Mountain Care Board. The change in patient-revenue figures that hospitals anticipate range from minus 2.7 percent for Gifford Medical Center in Randolph to a 5.9 percent increase from Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans.
University of Vermont Medical Center proposes a $39 million increase in patient revenues, a growth that precisely hits the 3.6 percent limit.
The Green Mountain Care Board, which approves budgets, got its first look at hospital budget data Thursday.
"This is the beginning of a many-step process," chair Al Gobeille told the small crowd attending the briefing. Looking at the individual growth rates, he said, "I wouldn't judge anyone over as bad or under as good."
Still, Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement celebrating the figures as evidence that health reforms are taking hold. "This is not a blip; this is a trend," he said. "And it is thanks to the hard work of the Green Mountain Care Board and Vermont hospitals to bend the cost curve on health care spending."
Gobeille spotlighted the average percentage increase that hospitals would seek from insurers — 4.3 percent. He said that was the lowest proposed increase in 15 years.
"While this is good news, and required a tremendous amount of work by our hospitals, we still hear from Vermonters about the challenges of access to and the affordability of our healthcare system,” Gobeille said in a statement.
The board flipped through charts with other data during the 60-minute briefing. The panel noted that the percentage of bad debt and free care both decreased. Board members said they want hospitals to help them understand whether this was the result of Affordable Care Act.
Mike Davis, director of health system finances for the board, noted too that, "Acute admissions just keep going down, down, down." Physician and clinic visits increased 2.7 percent.
Hospitals also proposed adding 222 staff, bringing the total non-doctor workforce to 12,676. They plan to add 38 doctors, which will bring the full-time physician slots to 1,089.
Each hospital will defend its budget at hearings before the board scheduled for August 25-27. The board must make decisions about each hospital budget by mid-September. The budgets take effect October 1.