Hal Cohen

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LIHEAP benefits to increase this winter

MONTPELIER — State officials said Thursday that a home heating assistance program will increase its benefit level for most beneficiaries during the upcoming winter season. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, funded by both state and federal dollars, will see its average benefit rise from $699 last winter to $865 this winter, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen and Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz. The average benefit is expected to cover about 54 percent of heating costs for households. The state officials said they anticipate receiving $18.9 million in federal funding this year for the LIHEAP program. That will be added to about $3.8 million in leftover money from last year plus the state contribution approved in the 2017 fiscal year budget. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration to revise, rebid major AHS tech projects

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration is planning to scuttle existing plans for major technology upgrades slated for the Agency of Human Services and begin the process anew using solutions developed in other states. Administration officials say contract negotiations for work on Integrated Eligibility and some major work on the Medicaid Managed Information System Core are being stopped and revised requests for proposals will be issued. The decision came from AHS Secretary Hal Cohen and is supported by the governor’s office and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson. “Since we released the Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS Core) and the Integrated Eligibility Solution (IE) RFP’s, the approach to these solutions has evolved significantly allowing us to be more strategic in building solutions that meet the needs of Vermonters, providers and staff,” Cohen wrote in an email to staff Wednesday afternoon announcing the decision. “This is our opportunity to reset. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Shumlin says $8.4 million needed to boost child protection


MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday laid out an $8.4 million plan to add 35 workers at the Department for Children and Families as well as an additional superior court judge and increased resources for the Defender General and State’s Attorneys Offices because of a growing demand for child protection services. Shumlin, speaking at a State House news conference, said the state’s child welfare system has struggled to keep pace with an influx of cases related to substance abuse, and opiate addiction in particular. The number of children in state custody has ballooned from 982 in September 2013 to 1,373 as of this past September. The increase, according to Shumlin, is largely driven by parents addicted to opiates. A DCF survey of cases found that 80 percent of cases involving children under the age of three were the result of opiate abuse. Continue Reading →

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State to try new drug to fight opiate addiction

MONTPELIER — The state will begin offering a drug to inmates leaving prison that blocks the brain’s pleasure center, with the goal of reducing relapses into opiate addiction. Beginning in January, inmates leaving Marble Valley Correctional Facility will have access to naltrexone, a drug that prevents a user from feeling high when ingesting an opiate such as heroin or oxycodone. So far, the state has trained 50 health care providers to prescribe naltrexone, a drug that is administered once a month by injection; however, no special training needed and the drug can be administered by any prescriber. Currently, the drug is approved for use in treating alcoholism and opiate addiction. While the drug itself is not new — some doctors have been prescribing the drug all along — the state is looking to expand its use in the hope of curbing the state’s opiate epidemic. Continue Reading →

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Legislation looks to curb Medicaid fraud

BARRE — Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing legislation intended to reduce Medicaid fraud. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. is one of three sponsors of a bipartisan bill that calls for states who convict health care providers of Medicaid fraud to report that information to the federal government, which will then share the information with other states. “There are a number of bad actors that provide fraudulent Medicaid reimbursement bills, and a failure at the federal level to jump on this and get that information out to other states where Medicaid providers might be ripping off the taxpayer,” Welch said during a stop Monday morning at Capstone Community Action, which provides social services to the neediest of Washington County area residents. One of the results of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as Obamacare — has been an increase in the number of people who are enrolled in Medicaid, which is funded through federal and state dollars. Continue Reading →

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State plans to end child and family homelessness

MONTPELIER — State officials are rolling out initiatives to end child and family homelessness in Vermont by 2020. Monday morning, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Agency of Human Services Sec. Hal Cohen announced plans by the state to follow federal models to end child and family homelessness, including the construction of affordable housing and the consolidation of services to prevent homelessness in the first place. “The stress and instability of homelessness can have profound impacts on children’s health, behavioral development and educational achievement,” Cohen said. “It’s time to wake up and realize that this is intolerable and that we are responsible to build the Vermont we want to see. Continue Reading →

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