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Vermont governor says state's Blueprint for Health program lowering patient costs

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BURLINGTON, Vermont — Federal studies show Vermont's Blueprint for Health — a program aimed at reaching patients with chronic conditions, keeping them in better heath and saving money by reducing hospitalizations and medical procedures — is helping slow the growth of Vermont health care costs, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday.

Shumlin wants to increase spending to $9 million for the pilot program, which began in 2003.

"The state has been successful in improving Vermonters' lives through these programs," Shumlin said, while lowering health care costs to them "in a really innovative and creative way."

A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report said the Blueprint program reduced total annual Medicare expenses for a net savings of $9.2 million. The agency said it did not see a reduction in inpatient and emergency room care after the first year of the study but acute care hospital expenses were "a major driver in the reduction in total Medicare expenditures suggesting that costliness of inpatient care may have decreased."

Another report, released in December from the Department of Health and Human Services, found that a Blueprint program for elderly residents in affordable housing produced a yearly savings of about $1,750 per Medicare recipient compared to nonmembers.

The people who get their care through this type of system "are getting put in the hospital less but they're getting better preventive screenings, better cancer screenings, blood pressure's better controlled, diabetes is better controlled and they're able to do more in their lives, they're able to function more normally," said Dr. Craig Jones, executive director of Blueprint for Health.

Shumlin has proposed preserving the program through increased reimbursement to providers. An ongoing problem is a so-called cost-shift in which Medicaid pays doctors, hospitals and other health providers too little to cover their costs, so they raise the rates they charge the private insurers to make up for the shortfall.

Shumlin has proposed a small payroll tax, which he says will raise about $90 million and draw down $100 million in federal matching funds to help the state pay more to Medicaid providers.

The House Ways and Means Committee has questioned his proposal, and Shumlin said Wednesday he's open to working with the Legislature on this issue.

"I'm passionate about fixing this. I personally believe that we came up with a plan that works because my funding plan is the only one so far that gets the money back to people who pay it," he said.

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