Healthcare Reform
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In the News 2009

December 5, 2009
Building Business-Friendly Health Care - Connecticut Post

September 11, 2009
The health of American society - Meriden Record Journal

September 9, 2009
Advocates of reform support public health care option - Meriden Record Journal

August 4, 2009
Dodd, Sebelius Bring Message Of Health Care Reform To Hartford Hartford Courant

August 2, 2009
Public insurance plan in the works: State businessman leads reform charge - New Haven Register

July 22, 2009
Surgical Override The Day

July 20, 2009
SustiNet Veto Overturned, Partnership Veto Sustained in Senate CT News Junkie

July 16, 2009
Editorial Inkdrops: Health Care Reform — See It And Believe It Newtown Bee

July 14, 2009
State: Health Care Record Journal editorial

July 10, 2009
Connecticut Needs Health Care Reform Now!
Veto shows governor's misplaced priorities Connecticut Post editorial

July 10, 2009
Override Rell health care vetoes The Day

July 9, 2009
Green: Gov. 'sticking head in sand' New Britain Herald

July 5, 2009
Opening State Plan Will Save Money Hartford Courant editorial

July 5, 2009
Families Can't Afford to Wait for Health Care Connecticut Local Politics editorial

July 1, 2009
A Chance to Lead
On health care, governor can stand with the people Connecticut Post editorial

June 18, 2009
Rally Urges Gov. Rell to Approve Health Care Reform Legislation North Haven Citizen

June 17, 2009
Health Reform Moves Toward the Goal Post New Haven Independent

June 15, 2009
State's Top Dems Endorse "Public Option" in Federal Health Reform
Two health bills awaiting from Governor Rell cited as models WNPR

June 15, 2009
State Pushes For Federal Health Care Debate CT News Junkie

May 26, 2009
O'Brien: Health Bills a Big Savings New Britain Herald

May 26, 2009
Bringing Healthcare Costs Under Control Connecticut Post

May 26, 2009
Health Insurance Demands Reforms Connecticut Post

May 25, 2009
Health Care Reform Gains Momentum New Britain Herald

May 24, 2009
A Creative Plan for Affordable Health Care The Day Editorial

May 21, 2009
PSN Lauds Passage of CT Bills to Create Option of Public Health Insurance Plan Progressive States Network

May 21, 2009
Connecticut House Backs Universal Health Care Coverage Hartford Courant

May 20, 2009
Sustinet Plan Passes House CT News Junkie

May 7, 2009
Health Care Pooling Bill Gets a Boost CT News Junkie

May 4, 2009
Getting Up To Speed on the National Debate CT News Junkie

May 2, 2009
State Must Address Health Care Issues Valley News

April 30, 2009
Health Care Access Legislation May Provide Windfall to School District Newtown Bee

April 29, 2009
Bysiewicz Pushes Plan at Health Care Roundtable
Middletown Press

April 28, 2009
Legislators and Small Business Owners Work to Push Down Health Care Costs Bristol Today Blog

April 8, 2009
Health Care Partnership Act Vital: Legislators Fairfield Citizen

March 25, 2009
Health Care Pooling Stamford Advocate

March 20, 2009
Study: 758,000 in Connecticut Hurt by Breaks in Health Coverage Hartford Courant

March 16, 2009
Health Care Pool: Saving State Dollars Hartford Business Journal

March 16, 2009
Forum to Keep Small Business Health Care Low Held Hartford Courant


December 5, 2009

BUILDING BUSINESS-FRIENDLY HEALTH CARE

By Christopher G. Donovan and Linda St. Peter

Connecticut health policy is not business-friendly.

We hear the stories every day: the Realtor who cannot get an affordable policy because of premium hikes due to her age and gender, the entrepreneur forced to chip away at the benefits he offers employees because premiums are increasing faster than income, the mechanic who cannot save for retirement because his pre-existing condition limits his coverage options to only the most expensive.

It's time to reform the business of health care so that it better serves small businesses and families.

The Democrats' passage of health care reform in the U.S.

House last month marked a historic day for our country. For the millions of small businesses who struggle under the weight of high health care costs, this day was long overdue.

When this legislation passes both the House and Senate, there will be tax credits to make insurance more affordable for millions of small businesses. More premium dollars will go toward the actual costs of providing health care. Insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and the cost of coverage will not be increased because of gender or health status.

We will have more and better options.

New regulations will crack down on the insurance industry's worst practices. The legislation will allow small businesses to pool together in an exchange, so they can take advantage of the purchasing power of the larger group — a luxury currently reserved for big business.

Finally, coverage expansions will eliminate the hidden tax we all pay to cover the uninsured.

Only through reform can we slow the unsustainable growth in costs that threatens the viability of businesses and expands our national deficit.

Under the proposed reform bills, small businesses that are satisfied with their insurance will not be required to change. The vast majority of small businesses would be exempt from rules requiring employers of a certain size to contribute to costs if they do not provide insurance.

About 75 percent of Connecticut companies employ between three and nine people. Small businesses are Connecticut's economic driver — yet they are hit hardest by the flaws in our current health insurance system. The current small-group insurance market imposes all sorts of hurdles: pre-existing condition exclusions for the self-employed, premium discrimination for age and gender, arbitrary coverage caps and higher administrative costs. Their premiums rise faster and their employees are more likely to lose coverage.

Making matters worse, a handful of private insurers have cornered the market, meaning it's slim pickings when it comes to competition.

It's easy to see why so many small employers do not provide health insurance. But the economic consequences of living without insurance are staggering. Estimates of lost productivity are in the $97 billion to $194 billion per year range, according to the Institute of Medicine. When you are a firm of one or two, one illness is all it takes to force you into bankruptcy.

Affording small businesses access to good health care at good prices amounts to financial relief, allowing them to stretch their dollars further, attract and retain talented people, and grow their organizations.

Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and the hard work of our Democratic Congressional Delegation and Sen. Christopher Dodd, we are closer than we have ever been to helping our businesses and our families.

We look forward to the passage of comprehensive reform in the Senate that will bring relief to Connecticut businesses and families who suffer under the crushing costs of health care.

Christopher G. Donovan is Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives. Linda St. Peter is president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors.


September 11, 2009

THE HEALTH OF AMERICAN SOCIETY

By Jeffery Kurz
Record-Journal staff

Christopher G. Donovan, as in House Speaker, Meriden Democrat, made an excellent point during a round table discussion on health care reform Wednesday, the day President Obama gave his big speech.

You could say I was predisposed to admire it. I'm always whining about why some Americans can't get their heads around a public option for health care while at the same time they don't bat an eye when it comes to schooling.

Public schools are an excellent example of American society at its best (and yes, I know there are problems and challenges) and with few exceptions Americans can support it without shrieking about socialism.

For the past dozen years, I've lived in a town and paid taxes to support its schools without sending any children to them, and not for a moment have I ever thought there was anything wrong with that. Most Americans feel the same way, I suspect, and it's a great example of willingness to support a greater benefit without benefiting personally.

And we all benefit in a less direct way from a more enlightened citizenry and the greater community involvement that schools foster.

So I think of schools, and public libraries, another public option worth championing, but what hadn't occurred to me were police departments and post offices. When you think about it, Americans willingly support public options all over the place.

"We've learned they work fine among the other options out there," said Donovan.

Not only that, but in some cases, as in the Postal Service, public options generate free-market competitiveness. Think of UPS and FedEx.

So the question is: Why is a public option such a bugaboo when it comes to health care, particularly when there is already a public option for certain Americans? (It's called Medicare.)

It should come as no surprise that private insurers aren't wild about the idea. It's hard to support the introduction of a new competitor (hard, but not impossible). And there are those who are inclined to support the status quo, even when it's lousy. And then, I'm afraid, there are those who simply want the president to fail, for political or other reasons, and will do anything to stand in the way of any accomplishment by his adminis-tration.

Add up those factors, and it's a wonder we're close at all to significant health-care reform.

Those speaking at the round table, held at the Community Health Center in Meriden and sponsored by the state chapter of Health Care for America Now, were all in support of a public option, basically because it's hard to imagine any significant reform without it.

Brenda Kelley, of the state AARP chapter, said seniors receiving Medicare benefits were particularly targeted in the scare tactics used to criticize the proposed reforms. "We're trying to reassure them," she said.

No less nervous are the younger AARP members, those from 50 to retirement age who are seeing health-care options slipping with the loss of jobs in the slumped economy.

They're facing the brunt of the worst of the current health-care situation, which includes being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or seeing rates skyrocket once you get sick.

Linda St. Peter, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said medical-related debt is playing a huge role in foreclosures. Do you pay your medical bills or your mortgage? It's an absurd choice.

Or, as St. Peter put it, "it's unconscionable to have to choose between the two."

So this is more than about the health of individuals. This is about the health of American society.

©www.MyRecordJournal.com 2009


September 9, 2009

ADVOCATES OF REFORM SUPPORT PUBLIC HEALTH CARE OPTION

By Jeffery Kurz
Record-Journal staff


Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, speaks about
health care reform at the Community Health Center.

Johnathon Henninger / Record-Journal

MERIDEN - On a day when President Barack Obama was set to deliver a major speech to the nation about health care reform, his top domestic priority, advocates gathered at the Community Health Center for a roundtable discussion supporting federal reform.

Sponsored by the state chapter of Health Care for America Now, the discussion was moderated by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, a champion of health care reform in Connecticut. The state recently passed the SustiNet program, overriding a veto by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, which is seen as setting the groundwork for universal health coverage in Connecticut. The state legislature was not able to override a veto on a related cause, the Healthcare Partnership bill.

Those speaking during Wednesday afternoon's forum supported a public option, seeing it as essential to significant reform at the national level. Critics say private insurers would be unable to compete with a government-run option. The debate reached a high level of friction in August, when federal lawmakers returned to their constituencies for so-called town hall meetings on reform proposals.

Donovan listed Medicare, public schools like the University of Connecticut, police departments and post offices as examples of public options.

"We've learned they work fine among the other options out there," he said.

Community Health Centers, like the one in Meriden, serve the uninsured and the underinsured, with 180 locations throughout Connecticut.

"We have always held the banner high that health care is a right and not a privilege," said Mark Masselli, president and chief executive of Community Health Center Inc., during introductory remarks.

Particularly in today's economic climate, even those with health coverage under employer-based plans face "an abyss and know it can change tomorrow," said Margaret Flinter, vice president and clinical director of the Community Health Center.

"If you're uninsured, your life's in danger," she said. "There's no way around it."

The contentious issue made August a busy month for the AARP, said Brenda Kelley, of the organization's state chapter. Many older seniors were confused and frightened by what reform may mean for government programs like Medicare.

"Those on Medicare have been the ones targeted by the scare tactics going on," she said.

"We're trying to reassure them," said Kelly, "that it's possible to save money and improve benefits at the same time.

"Our members are targeted because people know that they vote," Kelley said.

Also on edge are younger members of the organization, which represents Americans 50 and older, she said. They're often caring for those on either side, both children and parents, and because of the economy many have lost or are facing the prospect of losing long-held insurance provided by employers.

When they do, they're confronted with high costs and rules about pre-existing conditions.

"Our records show they're the fastest growing of those without health insurance," Kelley said.

Linda St. Peter was put in that position a few years ago after the death of her husband and the loss of her insurance under his plan. A pre-existing condition put "a black mark on my personal record" and made it impossible for her to get insured without extraordinary expense.

"We all have pre-existing conditions; we just don't know it," she said.

St. Peter, who is president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, also said medical-related debt "is huge in foreclosure."

"It's unconscionable to have to choose between the two," she said.

The passage of reform in Connecticut makes the state well-prepared for similar action at the federal level, suggested Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.

"We feel good about SustiNet," he said.

"No matter what the president says tonight, we know that health care reform will be hard and will take a number of years," he said.

©www.MyRecordJournal.com 2009


August 4, 2009

DODD, SEBELIUS BRING MESSAGE OF HEALTH CARE REFORM TO HARTFORD

By Zeke Miller
The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD - In the ongoing effort to market health care reform to Main Street, Washington came to Hartford on Monday to listen to the challenges that small businesses face in trying to provide insurance coverage to employees.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, joined Sen. Christopher Dodd and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro to speak to small businesses about the need for health insurance reform.

Dodd, who announced Friday that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, joked that he has "the best-known prostate in America," before stressing the importance of extending benefits to those in need.

"I want everyone in America to wake up with the same sense of security that a member of Congress does when it comes to health care," he said.

DeLauro called the insurance market "dysfunctional," and said employees of small businesses should have access to the same health coverage as those of large companies.

Sebelius, a former Kansas insurance commissioner, criticized insurers' practice of using pre-existing conditions to leave the most needy without health coverage, and said she hoped legislation would change the practice of raising premiums while tightening benefits.

"We are all at the mercy of what happens next," she said.

The plans currently under debate in Congress are all designed to broaden coverage. There is no consensus on how to pay for the coverage, or on whether to create a government health plan to compete with private insurers — who say they can work more efficiently than the government.

"Insurance companies will have to get permission to raise their rates by more than medical inflation," DeLauro said, referring to last month's individual-market rate hike request by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut. "[They] will no longer be able to target small businesses with just a few employees who have the misfortune of getting sick."

Dodd, who faces a tough re-election campaign next year, is leading the Senate effort on reform in the absence of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

"You cannot separate economic recovery from health care," Dodd said. "We will not recover economically until we address health care issues."

Connecticut Commercial Maintenance, a property services firm with six employees, hosted the meeting.

Without coverage for his workers, owner Kevin Galvin said, "It is a challenge every day to keep our best employees around," as several have left for lower-paying jobs that offered health insurance.

Galvin, a strong supporter of recent state reforms, is chairman of the Small Businesses For Health Care Reform advisory committee.


August 2, 2009

PUBLIC INSURANCE PLAN IN THE WORKS: STATE BUSINESSMAN LEADS REFORM CHARGE

By Mary E. O'Leary
Register Topics Editor

Businessman Kevin Galvin considers his six-member workforce his extended family.

When one of them got a tooth infection that almost killed him, Galvin not only paid the worker's salary for three months, but also covered his medications.

He did it out of a sense of moral obligation, but it's a tough business model for a small firm that cannot afford to pay for health insurance for its workers.

Galvin said other members of his staff can't afford the $1,200 monthly insurance premiums in the individual market, while another young father uses the emergency room to get treatment for his child's ear infection, causing him to lose a day's work.

"These people are the drive for me to get involved in the health care fight," he said. "It's a deplorable situation."

Galvin, who runs Connecticut Commercial Maintenance out of West Hartford, was so frustrated by the situation, he spent the last two years organizing Small Businesses for Health Care Reform, which brought 19,000 entrepreneurs to the table in the state's recent debate on the topic.

Part of a coalition of clergy, labor and health care providers, they convinced the state legislature to pass the SustiNet health care reform bill and managed to squeek out an override of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's veto of the legislation.

"I think this is an amazing opportunity for Connecticut to become a leader in health care reform," said Galvin, who has been cited on the Senate floor by U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn as an example of an entrepreneur struggling to grow his business, but held back by health care costs.

SustiNet, when its nine-member board of directors is in place by this week, is charged with developing a framework for a public insurance option in Connecticut that would compete in the private marketplace.

It must report back to the legislature by January 2011 on the details of a self-insured model, that puts state employees, Medicaid Husky recipients, interested small businesses, towns, nonprofits and individuals under one umbrella for administrative purposes.

SustiNet would start taking enrollees in July 2012, with the full plan probably not in place until 2017 when they estimate 98 percent of the Connecticut population would have insurance coverage.

Currently, there are some 300,000 Connecticut residents without health insurance, part of the 47 million across the country, while thousands of others are underinsured.

SustiNet was developed after five years of study and campaigning by the Universal Health Care Foundation as a way of expanding heath insurance access, while also controlling costs through care coordination, chronic disease management, the use of electronic records and considering a delivery system that goes beyond a fee-for-service model.

Unlike health reform in Massachusetts, which concentrated on access and mandated coverage for all its citizens, SustiNet "tries to deal also with cost containment and quality," said Juan Figueroa, president of the foundation.

"You can't do health care reform these days without addressing all three. It may be more complicated, there may be less certainty in terms of the solutions, but we have got to move in that direction," said Figueroa, who has been inundated by calls from the national press interested in the model as the federal government struggles with reform along parallel lines.

"If we can do it here in the insurance capitol of the country, we can set the tone," said Figueroa. "That can only be helpful to us ultimately in terms of accessing federal resources and putting together something that works for the state of Connecticut."

The bill does not contain as many details as the original proposal given the current economic downturn and the $8.5 billion state deficit lawmakers and the governor have to cover in the 2009-2011 biennium budget, which is stalled over the extent of tax increases she is willing to accept.

But if the final SustiNet plan follows the same details originally worked out in the study by Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stan Dorn of The Urban Institute, it will cost $950 million a year to boost provider rates and subsidize premiums for people who can't afford them.

Gruber, an economist, said the cost savings however for employers and households over a five year period would be $1.7 billion, with a projected drop in total health care spending ranging from 0.2 percent to 3.2 percent.

OUT OF CONTROL

The urgency in Connecticut and across the country for reform is driven by the galloping increases in health care costs, which are expected to rise to $4.4 trillion, more than one-fifth of the economy, by 2018, if there are no changes.

Since 2000, premiums have more than doubled on average and risen 129 percent for small businesses, while wages have stagnated, according to economists.

Without reform, family premiums in Connecticut, which average $14,346 now, will jump to $24,480 by 2019, says the Center for American Progress, pricing more people out of the market and strangling businesses.

The majority of people in the country, including Connecticut, get their insurance coverage through their employers and Figueroa said SustiNet is not designed to replace private coverage, but to stimulate competition.

In Connecticut, 66 percent of the health insurance market is now cornered by WellPoint Anthem Blue Care at 55 percent with another 10 percent held by Health Net.

"The fact of the matter is most people like what they have. The very idea of a public plan in the marketplace is born out of the reality that what you are doing is offering one more choice to the public," Figueroa said of SustiNet.

There would still be business for insurance companies to administer claims and for insurance brokers, he said. "Maybe it isn't their most profitable sector, but how can we justify their high (insurance) profits when we have 47 million uninsured," he asked.

Rell and others however, worry about the estimated cost of SustiNet and a second bill that she vetoed, that would have immediately opened up the state employee health insurance plan to municipal workers, nonprofits and small businesses.

She said they are well intentioned, but fail to resolve problems of access and affordability. "These bills also raise fiscal concerns that — in a time of record budget deficit, record unemployment and record business closures — simply cannot be ignored," she said in her veto message.

State Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who with other members of his party voted against SustiNet, likes the emphasis on medical homes for everyone where preventative care would be coordinated, but worries about the future of the 25,000 workers in the insurance business in Connecticut.

He feels the public plan would be unfair competition to the industry whose profits come more from investments than premiums. McKinney argued for cost controls to allow more people to afford insurance, rather than changing a system were over 90 percent of residents in Connecticut already have insurance.

On the other side of the aisle, state Sen. Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the total cost of health care spending in Connecticut, for employers, workers, public and private plans is $22 billion "and we are not getting a very good return. That's a staggering amount for 3.5 million people."

LEFT OUT

Linda St. Peter, who heads the Realtors Association in Connecticut, is an independent contractor who, like her colleagues, faces high premiums or high deductibles in the volatile non-group insurance market. She is a big supporter of SustiNet, and wants legislators to keep her situation in mind as they act on reforms.

A breast cancer survivor, she lost her insurance coverage when her husband died within six months after being diagnosed with a virulent form of leukemia. A few months shy of the five-year survival mark for her own cancer, she couldn't get insurance and found the $1,800 monthly COBRA charges unaffordable.

She now has a high deductible plan and is fighting for reforms, not just for herself, but the 18,000 Realtor colleagues, some who confided they don't seek care for fear of increasing their premiums.

If President Obama's federal health care reform proposal is adopted, SustiNet has 60 days to present a plan to the legislature on how best to position Connecticut.

It also has been tasked with finding strategies on reducing obesity, smoking and dealing with a shortage of health care personnel, but national reform would narrow its role considerably. Figueroa however said that's OK with him, since the ultimate goal is universal health care.

Galvin feels the public option is key to the success of any reform.

"It has to be the building block," he said.

The 30-year businessman said he is also wants to contribute financially.

"I'm willing to contribute my fair share," he said. "What's at stake is the heart and soul of how we practice medicine in this country."


July 22, 2009

SURGICAL OVERRIDE

The Day

How ironic that Connecticut's Republican governor and GOP lawmakers in the legislature would rather wait for Washington to do something about the health care crisis than begin addressing the problem here at home. Don't Republicans oppose big federal solutions and fight for state rights?

Yet given a chance to establish universal health care coverage in the state by signing the SustiNet health plan into law, Gov. M. Jodi Rell opted instead to veto it. And when it came to a vote to override on Monday, Republican lawmakers marched in nearly lockstep to sustain the governor's action.

Thankfully, Democrats in control of the legislature realized the folly of continuing to ignore the health care problem and mustered the votes to override the veto.

Gov. Rell's main argument was that Connecticut, facing an $8.7 billion deficit over the next two years, cannot afford a universal health care plan. Fair enough, but that position ignores the fact that this is largely a planning bill. It provides broad outlines - any state resident must be eligible for state coverage; coordinated care and preventive practices will be priorities; a government plan will compete with private providers - but specific details, including how to pay for it, must be determined.

The SustiNet plan will not begin enrollment until 2012 and will stretch implementation over five years. This provides time to determine revenues sources and coordinate the state plan with any federal health care legislation that is passed. Most importantly, it gets things moving.

In a recent editorial The Day urged an override of the governor's veto and is gratified the legislature took that action. Providing health care is a burden for small businesses, unattainable for many of the working poor, and an ongoing crisis for hospitals that must provide free care in the absence of health insurance for 325,000 state residents.

Adopting SustiNet is a critical first step toward a solution.


July 20, 2009

SUSTINET VETO OVERTURNED, PARTNERSHIP VETO SUSTAINED IN SENATE

by Christine Stuart
CT News Junkie

Christine Stuart photo
Juan Figueroa, president Universal Health
Care Foundation - Christine Stuart photo

The House and the Senate succeeded in overturning Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's veto of the SustiNet bill Monday, but the state Senate failed to overturn the Healthcare Partnership bill after one senator failed to vote even though she was still in the building.

"The insurance capital of the country just passed a bill that provides a framework for a public option," Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said as he celebrated with supporters on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.

The passage of the SustiNet bill "really puts the state in a great position" as the national health care debate continues, Figueroa said.

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said the override of the SustiNet bill positions the state for federal funds and makes it "Obama-ready." However, Donovan was unable to hide his disappointment in Sen. Joan Hartley, who decided not to vote on his Healthcare Partnership bill.

"It's a missed opportunity for the businesses and employees in her town," Donovan said.

As Hartley stepped into the elevator to exit the building Monday she was asked why she failed to vote on the bill. As she looked down at her cellphone she explained, "I think the state of Connecticut cannot afford it at this time." She said the state has failed to solve the "budget crisis" and doesn't believe an actuarial analysis of the Healthcare Partnership bill—which would allow certain groups to join the state employees health insurance pool—has been conducted.

Hartley, a Democrat from Waterbury, was also absent the first time the Senate passed the bill back on May 30.

Aside from a debate over whether it would save the state money, Donovan's Healthcare Partnership bill received other criticism too.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, warned his colleagues in the House not to hurt themselves patting themselves on the back after passing the Healthcare Partnership bill because "it won't do a thing about the uninsured." He said at least the SustiNet bill is creative in trying to solve the problem of the uninsured.

The Healthcare Partnership bill passed by a vote of 105 to 37 in the House before failing to get the two-thirds majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto in the Senate.

Donovan said he doesn't know when it happened, but when he first started as a legislator health care was a bipartisan issue. "Now the Republicans have decided to be against health care reform when health care reform is not a partisan issue," he said.

Cafero, a Republican, said he opposed the SustiNet bill because it would cost the state $1 billion per year after its implemented. Rell sent out a statement Monday evening saying, "I remain particularly concerned about the fiscal impact of the SustiNet bill."

"The simple fact is that the families and employers of Connecticut cannot afford the new taxes that will be required by this new program," Rell said.

Proponents of the bill said it doesn't cost the state anything over the next two years as the SustiNet board of directors develops the framework for a state health care system, which includes a type of public option.

Figueroa said it's different than Massachusetts where they addressed the issue of access before addressing quality and cost. SustiNet is designed to look at costs and quality at the same time as access, he said as he was interrupted by hugs from supporters and phone calls.

"This vote will be heard around the country," Tom Swan, director of the CT Citizen Action Group, said Monday. "When the insurance capital of America votes to move forward with a public health insurance option, it makes sounds that will reverberate through the halls of congress."


July 16, 2009

EDITORIAL INKDROPS: HEALTH CARE REFORM — SEE IT AND BELIEVE IT

Health care reform has taken on some of the same mythical qualities of some other elusive creatures, like the Loch Ness monster or Sasquatch. We've heard that it really is out there somewhere, and we've seen the grainy photographs, but until we see it with our own eyes we will remain skeptical.

This year there have been lots of encouraging reports coming out of Congress, and in Hartford lawmakers even had health care reform in the crosshairs. Governor M. Jodi Rell, however, declined to pull the trigger. Last week she vetoed two health care reform bills that earlier had won lopsided legislative approval, largely along party lines. Next week, Democratic majorities in both the state House and Senate will try to put together veto overrides for both measures.

The bills would allow municipalities, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations into the state government's insurance pool and established universal health care. The insurance pool, which would bring greater economies of scale to hard-pressed municipalities, nonprofits, and businesses with fewer than 50 employees, was also vetoed by the governor last year. Its main drawback is that it would do nothing to improve the plight of the uninsured. The "SustiNet" universal health care plan was new this year and grew out of a four-year effort by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut to bring relief to the growing numbers of small businesses — including sole proprietors from hot dog vendors and handymen (and women) to licensed therapists and realtors — who have very few and very expensive health insurance options.

The governor's instinct to veto expensive legislation that is either vague or entirely mute on how it will be paid for would normally win our quick endorsement. But the current system of providing and paying for health care in Connecticut and nationwide is so badly broken that summarily rejecting widely supported remedies until some other year imposes an immediate and continuing cost on individual lives and small businesses so great that it justifies whatever political dustup that may ensue over who pays and how much.

In supporting these initiatives, Connecticut's business leaders have pointed out that small businesses create 80 percent of the new jobs in the state. Too many of those businesses are losing profits to unrelenting increases in health insurance for their personnel and losing employees when they are forced to drop insurance coverage altogether. In turning its back on this sputtering engine of the local economy, Hartford is inviting even bigger fiscal problems next year as tax revenues continue to fall behind right along with the economy.

Next week, the Legislature needs to override Gov Rell's vetoes of these two health care reform measures and then get about the business of building a foundation of financial support for a health system that fairly apportions the costs and the savings to the people of the state. We could wait forever for a solution to our health care crisis to emerge from Washington, D.C., where the chase of monsters and mythical beasts seems never-ending. The problems with our health care system are very real, however, and this year in Connecticut we have a couple of very real solutions in our sights.


July 14, 2009

STATE: HEALTH CARE

Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed the two major bills affecting the future of health care in Connecticut last week, and it would appear that the Republican governor and the Democratic-dominated legislature are miles apart.

One bill, HB6582, known variously as the Healthcare Partnership Bill or the Pooling Bill, is similar to a measure passed and then vetoed last year. The bill's approach, like last year, was to open up state employees' favorable health insurance contracts to those who work for municipalities and non-profits.

On its face, it seems to make a lot of sense to make the most of these desirable contracts, since the more people they cover, the more the risk of insurance is shared. It is objected, as it was last year, that some municipalities may already have excellently-priced insurance and their towns would pay more if they joined the state pool. Under the vetoed bill however, they had no obligation to join.

Governor Rell points out in her veto message that among the non-profit workers, false hopes might be raised for this land of coverage which their agencies could not afford. She raises the question of how non­profits in fiscal distress might cover these insurance costs, and cites this as apart of the potential cost to the state of this bill Another point she makes is that some insurers, as they did last year, have threatened to amend the favorable state rates if they are obliged to accept more persons in the risk group. is also a requirement the state move at once to self-insurance, which would put it in some conflict with these same contracts which now create reserves to cover costs.

To our way of thinking, these objections don't appear insuperable. Assuming there is agreement that expanding the pool would be good and that self-insurance would be good (provided the timing is right), kinks in the bill could be negotiated.

The other measure, HB6600, is known as the SustiNet bill. It aims to provide a health care plan for everyone. This is a goal Rell says she supports, as do we, and as do the Democrats who voted for the measure. The difference between the two approaches is that Democrats look at the measure and see that a huge sum of cash — a billion or so — would be saved since persons hitherto without insurance would no longer need to show up at emergency rooms for health care (which would no longer require state reimbursement). The governor looks at it and sees state, liabilities at least as large if some employers drop health care plans because they're not as good as the public plan and the state is obliged to pay for their coverage.

To us, this seems in some ways to be the same pot of money observed from different directions. Negotiations, again, ought to be possible to work out a jointly acceptable approach.

Indications are "that the legislature will attempt' to override Governor Rell's veto, a step which is technically possible, given the parties' respective strength, but more than a little unlikely. Given, also, the dis­tance between legislative leadership and the governor on the whole budget issue from the basic numbers and ideas on how to fix things, negotiations are tough.

Nonetheless, a budget must be achieved and it would be excellent to get Connecticut started on a solution to the health care issues. And we desperately need to start.


July 10, 2009

CONNECTICUT NEEDS HEALTH CARE REFORM NOW!
Veto shows governor's misplaced priorities

By Susan Bysiewicz

The true test of leadership is not just doing the easy thing when times are good, it's making the tough calls and doing the right thing when times are bad. Last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell failed that test miserably.

In vetoing House Bill No. 6582, an Act Establishing the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership; and House Bill No. 6600, An Act Concerning the Establishment of the SustiNet Plan; Gov. Rell once again showed herself to be disengaged from one of the most important public policy issues to face our country for the last 25 years.

Governor, we don't need another commission to study the problem of health care. We know what the problem is and how to fix it. Here's how one public servant summed it up: "Opportunity for all means reforming the health care system to control costs, improve quality, expand preventive and long-term care, maintain consumer choice, and cover everybody." Those words were spoken by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on Oct. 3, 1991.

In the ensuing 18 years, another 10 million Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured, while health care costs are spiraling out of control. In Connecticut, 400,000 residents now lack health insurance and a recently released Families USA report found that 758,000 people went without health coverage in Connecticut at some time during the years of 2007-2008.

As Connecticut's chief business registrar, I see the results of the lack of affordable, quality health insurance every day. I have traveled to every corner of Connecticut in the last two years holding roundtable discussions on health care with small-business entrepreneurs. They have consistently told me that providing health coverage for their employees is both their highest cost and the largest drag on their profitability. These small-business owners are the backbone of our economy; in fact, businesses with 50 employees or less are responsible for creating 90 percent of all new Connecticut jobs in the last decade. But with health care costs skyrocketing, many small-business entrepreneurs face a dilemma: do I lay off valuable employees to provide some with health insurance, or do I keep all of my employees but provide no health coverage?

The consequences of this choice are in plain sight. A 2007 Report issued by the Health Insurance Policy Council showed that over 52 percent of the uninsured in Connecticut are employees of small businesses and their families. More startling, in the first half of this year, nearly 7,000 businesses in Connecticut have shut their doors, which represents a 17 percent increase in business closures over last year's figure and a new record high for first half of any year since we first started recording these numbers in 2000.

To me, affordable, quality health care is not only a right to which our citizens are entitled, but the numbers show it is also the catalyst to reviving our economy, growing companies, adding jobs, and retaining our highly skilled work force. This is the second year in a row that Gov. Rell has vetoed meaningful health care reform legislation. I often wonder how many of the more than 20,000 businesses who shut down in Connecticut during that time might have been able to survive if they had the option of affordable, quality health care.

More than 24 states have passed laws opening up their state employee health insurance pool to employees at municipalities, public schools and even regional planning agencies. A handful of other states are looking at expanding these large pools to private sector entities like small businesses, realizing the millions of dollars in savings from spreading the risk among a large group of insured people. This is the smart, sensible approach of the CT Healthcare Partnership.

With her vetoes, Gov. Rell has said "no" to being a leader on health care reform and said "yes" to billions more in profits for big health insurance companies. The governor has chosen to perpetuate the status quo: less preventative care and more expensive visits to the emergency room to deal with health crises. And who foots the bill for caring for the uninsured? We all do through increases in our health care premiums.

We don't have to take no for an answer. Call your legislator. Demand that they vote to override Gov. Rell's short-sighted and ill-advised vetoes of the CT Healthcare Partnership and the SustiNet Plan. Governor, if you cannot show leadership on the critical issue of health care facing Connecticut's citizen, step aside; we will.

Susan Bysiewicz is Connecticut's secretary of the state and has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor in 2010.


July 10, 2009

OVERRIDE RELL HEALTH CARE VETOES

Given the chance to begin health care reform, Gov. M. Jodi Rell opted for inaction by vetoing two reform bills Wednesday and appointing yet another advisory board.

No more blue-ribbon panels are necessary to sort out the myriad problems with the health care system in the state. A group of experts did that and the results were the bills the governor rejected. Forming a study panel is an obvious attempt to deflect political criticism of the veto, not find a solution.

Gov. Rell is right when she says Connecticut is strapped for cash and unable to fund new initiatives right now. But the so-called "pooling" and Sustinet bills she vetoed would have created the framework to build an improved health care system over time.

The Sustinet plan would not have begun enrollment until 2012 and stretched implementation over five years. Combined, the two bills would establish universal health care and allow nonprofit organizations, small businesses and municipalities to join the state's insurance pool. The bills, if enacted, would establish the conceptual structure to provide decent, affordable health care to everyone in the state, including the approximately 325,000 uninsured residents.

Forming a 15-member Connecticut Health Care Reform Advisory Board - and charging it with developing health care policies to mesh with whatever reforms the Congress approves - is straight from the Rell administration playbook. When unwilling to act, form a study panel.

In creating this particular advisory board, Gov. Rell dismisses the good work of the Universal Health Care Foundation, the independent, nonprofit grant-making organization that grew out of a 1997 lawsuit after the merger of the for-profit Anthem Insurance with Blue Cross & Blue Shield. The foundation has studied the issue for years with the goal of achieving a quality health care system that is affordable and available for everyone in Connecticut. It is the architect of Sustinet.

Showing insensitivity to those who need relief now, Gov. Rell gave her panel until Jan. 1, 2011 to make its recommendations. The governor points to "daily developments in Washington that have the potential to make extraordinary and fundamental changes in the way health care coverage is provided in our nation."

In other words, the Republican governor puts faith in the Democratic-controlled Congress, but is unwilling to enact solutions produced by the state's Democratic-controlled legislature.

If Congress helps solve the problem, great, but why wait? A proactive approach will better serve the state. The General Assembly should override the vetoes.


July 9, 2009

GREEN: GOV. 'STICKING HEAD IN SAND'

By SCOTT WHIPPLE
Staff writer New Britain Herald

According to Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is "sticking her head in the sand and hoping the health care crisis will solve itself. It won't."

Green made the statement following the governor's veto of two health care reform bills Wednesday, Sustinet and Healthcare Partnership.

"Gov. Rell's claim that these two bills don't address cost and access borders on the absurd," Green said. "But here's what's certain: the private insurance companies aren't driving down cost or expanding access. The Charter Oak plan isn't doing enough to drive down costs or expand access. And, doing nothing clearly won't improve access or reduce costs."

Connecticut Working Families is a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and neighborhood activists "united to fight for a fair economy."

Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut also denounced the governor's vetoes. Calling her action "callous and ill-informed," Foundation President Juan Figueroa called the move "a slap in the face to thousands of small businesses and every person in this state who cannot wait for quality, affordable health care. With the stroke of a pen, she turned her back on their plight."

Figueroa said Rell chose to ignore the broad coalition of residents who contributed to the development and passage of this legislation.
"Business, labor, health care providers, faith leaders, all were at the table," he said.

However, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association urged legislators to sustain the governor's vetoes. CBIA said business is pleased with her executive order creating a Health Care Reform Advisory Board that will help position Connecticut for national reform.

"The pooling and SustiNet measures are very expensive and risky — and come at a time when Connecticut and its businesses are struggling to get back on their feet financially," said CBIA President and CEO John Rathgeber. "Gov. Rell was courageous to reject these measures because they fail to provide Connecticut with what it needs most — controlled health care costs, improved quality, and greater access to coverage for state residents."

Rathgeber said the pooling bill would have opened the expensive state employee plan to small businesses and other groups; the SustiNet plan would have created a massive, expensive, government-run health care system.

"These plans would have increased the size and cost to state government at a time when it is already facing significant budget deficits," he said. "Neither of these state proposals is in coordination with measures being considered in Congress to reform our national health care system. However, the governor's executive order places Connecticut in a position to quickly react to federal reform once it occurs."

The New Britain delegation also voiced their displeasure with the governor's veto of the health care bills.

"I am very disappointed in Gov. Rell's decision," said Rep. Tim O'Brien, D-24th District, "This legislation is an important way to lower the burden on property taxpayers, while expanding access to affordable quality health coverage."

"It's disappointing that Gov. Rell would turn her back on Connecticut's families and small businesses that need quality, affordable health insurance." said Rep. John Geragosian, D-25th District. "It's also sad that the governor, like her Republican friends in Washington, have sided with health insurance companies and big business rather than the struggling towns, small businesses and families of Connecticut."

State Sen. Don DeFronzo, D-6th District, said Gov. Rell's veto "disregards the importance of health care reform in Connecticut. Nationally it is estimated that 60 percent of personal bankruptcies and 50 percent of home foreclosures are the result of people not having health insurance and being unable to pay their medical bills. We need to find a solution to this problem now."

"It is disappointing to see that Gov. Rell has chosen so many times to side with the insurance company executives and not Connecticut residents," said Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-26th District. "Whether it be hearing aids, janitors' health care, the SustiNet Plan, the Health Care partnership bill or budget priorities, the governor has taken the wrong position. The public deserves the option to have the same insurance the governor and I have. People understand that. Appointing yet another task force is not the answer."


July 5, 2009

OPENING STATE PLAN WILL SAVE MONEY

By Christopher G. Donovan

Anthem Blue Cross announced this past week that it wants to raise individual insurance policy rates by as much as 32 percent.

With the bargaining power of bulk purchasing for 200,000 lives, the state employee health plan has been able to keep premium increases for individuals in the Anthem program to an average of only 4.6 percent over the past three years.

It's no wonder, then, that small businesses, municipalities and nonprofits support the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, which was passed by the General Assembly this session and awaits the governor's signature. It is a health care reform plan that provides good health care insurance at lower costs and the choice to join the state health plan.

It's also why President Barack Obama talks about a public health care option at the federal level.

The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership is bold — it starts us on the path of truly reforming our state's broken health care system by establishing Connecticut's own public insurance option.

It's creative — it uses resources already in place to streamline health care purchasing for our cities and towns, the nonprofits that supply vital services to our communities and the small employers that will ignite our economic recovery.

Finally, it's fiscally responsible — it will provide immediate relief for the state budget — to the tune of $80 million in savings in the fiscal year that began Wednesday, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for small businesses and cities and towns.

Health care really is becoming unaffordable. Ever-rising premiums are taking a financial toll on Connecticut's families. Small employers are struggling to afford health insurance for themselves, let alone their employees. More frequently business owners are cutting benefits or employee coverage altogether because of cost. As taxpayers, we all foot the bill.

The partnership will introduce savings from self-insuring the state employees' health plan, as most large employers already do, so the state can start spending fewer of its scarce dollars on insurance policies and apply them directly to cost-saving care.

It would also create a bulk-purchasing structure, allowing small employers that have difficulty negotiating affordable insurance coverage the option of pooling together under the state employee plan. Like shopping at a wholesale store, bulk purchasing of health care saves consumers money by allowing them to take advantage of improved buying power and reduced overhead costs.

Opening the state employee plan will bring financial relief to the small enterprises our economy relies on — allowing them to provide their employees with good health care at good prices, stretch their dollars further and attract talented people to grow their organizations.

The partnership bill will improve access to insurance for many — but not all Connecticut residents. It is intended to work in concert with the SustiNet Plan, which provides a framework for creating additional coverage options with the goal of covering 98 percent of the state's population.

Like any bold initiative, the partnership has its critics, and many of them happen to sell health insurance. They have big stakes in preserving the status quo — which drove Connecticut premiums up 8.2 times faster than wages from 2000 to 2007. This plan will bring a healthy dose of cost-saving competition to the private insurance market and drive costs down.

Naysayers would suggest we do nothing but sit back and wait for the federal government to fix health care. Fortunately, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership and SustiNet will make Connecticut "Obama-ready" — prepared to implement national initiatives and take full advantage of new health care dollars.

Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in health care reform. We have the chance to make a real difference in the lives of thousands of Connecticut families, and in the fortunes of small businesses across the state. We cannot ignore this opportunity to implement bold, creative reform.

Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, is speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant


July 5, 2009

FAMILIES CAN'T AFFORD TO WAIT FOR HEALTH CARE

By Rep. Steve Fontana (D-North Haven)
Co-Chairman of the Insurance & Real Estate Committee

Every month, hardworking people all over Connecticut lose their health insurance coverage when they lose their jobs, when their employers stop offering it, or when they can no longer afford to pay for it. Deciding whether and how to reform our healthcare system isn't an academic debate for them, but a potential life or death situation.

The experience of a constituent of mine, Lisa, illustrates the healthcare problems that too many of us face. She suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, which, as pre-existing conditions, well might make her uninsurable if she weren't already covered by her husband's plan. Her brother recently lost his health insurance, along with his job, because he couldn't afford his COBRA coverage. Several of Lisa's relatives have never had any healthcare coverage, because they work for small businesses that do not provide insurance to their employees. Lisa is now concerned that something may happen to her husband or his job that may jeopardize their health insurance.

Lisa, her family, and hundreds of thousands of others cannot afford to wait any longer for healthcare reform. They deserve a quality, affordable healthcare plan.

Thankfully, we've found a way to provide Connecticut residents with a quality, affordable health insurance choice that begins to control costs. Every year the state uses the bargaining power of our large, stable employee group to negotiate favorable healthcare rates. We propose leveraging this pool to create a Healthcare Partnership. The Partnership is a voluntary health plan option that allows the employees of towns, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses to join the state employee plan.

This Partnership is a "win-win-win" that benefits state taxpayers, our towns, and small businesses.

By self-insuring our state plan as we did before 1997, we will yield a one-time savings of $70 million, and ongoing savings of $10 million to $20 million per year for the state.

Providing towns with a competitive choice for employee health insurance will reduce budget costs for most Connecticut towns. Many states already allow municipal employees to join their state plans, and, according to the Connecticut Education Association, 85% of Connecticut towns could reduce health insurance costs for their teachers by joining the state plan.

Small businesses and non-profit organizations will save money that they can use to invest in their businesses and attract good employees by providing them with competitive healthcare choices.

Allowing towns, nonprofits, and small businesses to buy their healthcare through a public health plan option enjoys widespread support. David Osborne, a nationally-recognized expert on improving government performance whom Governor Rell brought to Connecticut this past winter, favors approaches like the Partnership because states can use their administrative flexibility and bargaining power to negotiate better prices. Connecticut groups representing realtors, doctors, educators, small businesses, and senior citizens all endorse it. Recent polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times demonstrate that the public broadly supports a voluntary public option like the Partnership.

In addition, we can compound the prospective success of the Partnership by enacting an other initiative to lay the foundation for further healthcare system improvements. The SustiNet plan, developed to integrate our state efforts with reforms being discussed in Congress, will assure that we continue to lead the nation by extending quality health coverage to more residents, containing costs, and promoting preventive care.

The people of Connecticut want access to a public option that provides quality, affordable healthcare – the same great health plan available to more than 200,000 state employees, dependents, retirees, legislators like me, and even Governor Rell.

The General Assembly passed these two initiatives by wide margins. All we need is Governor Rell's signature to make them state law.

While Governor Rell may be hearing the self-serving objections of naysayers and special interests, I hope she is also hearing from the tens of thousands of ordinary Connecticut citizens who desperately want and need her to support these solutions.

In the past, the Governor has risen to the occasion when circumstances demand it. I urge her to take up the mantle of leadership on healthcare reform at this critical juncture by signing both bills into law.


July 1, 2009

A CHANCE TO LEAD
On health care, governor can stand with the people

By Adam Thompson

With two landmark health care reform bills now on her desk, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has to decide whose side she is on — small businesses and families struggling under the weight of high health care costs, or the state's health insurance industry, which has a big stake in preserving the costly status quo. Will she allow precedent-setting health care reforms to proceed, or will she, for the second year in a row, be the "Governor of No"?

The two bills, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership and SustiNet, promise relief from high health care costs by creating the choice of a public health insurance plan. With a handful of private insurance companies assuming a chokehold over the Connecticut market, residents saw their premiums rise 8.2 times faster than wages from 2000 to 2007. As premiums skyrocketed, profits of the nation's largest private insurance companies went up 428 percent. The Partnership and SustiNet would address this mounting crisis by creating new options for Connecticut businesses and families, and infusing the market with competition.

Naturally, big health insurance interests, represented by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, are opposed, as the competition could threaten their profits. Gov. Rell sided with CBIA last year when she vetoed a similar version of the Partnership. Connecticut legislators have given Gov. Rell a second chance to show whose side she is on — small businesses and families, or the entrenched interests of CBIA.

The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership and SustiNet vary in scope and mechanics, but the basic principle behind both is the same: when you have a lot of people bargaining together, you get a better deal. The Partnership would self insure the 200,000-member state employee health insurance plan and open it up to small businesses, nonprofits and municipal-ities, generating significant bargaining power and savings. The measure would save the state $70 million upon its implementation. SustiNet would create the choice of a public health insurance plan for residents and businesses as part of a broader reform initiative that is estimated to extend coverage to 98 percent of the state's population and save employers $1.35 billion.

With more options to choose from, and greater bargaining power at their back, small businesses and their employees stand to gain from both bills. Not surprisingly, a number of smallbusiness groups, including Small Businesses for Health Care Reform and the Business Advisory Council to HealthCare4Every1, have stood up to vocally support the bills.

In opposition is CBIA, which has considerable stakes in maintaining the costly status quo. Its board of directors includes top executives from CIGNA HealthCare, Aetna, Health Net of the Northeast, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and the HMO ConnectiCare.

CBIA is not a neutral voice in this debate. It has a fullyowned, for-profit subsidiary, CBIA Services Corp., which sells health insurance and other services to small businesses. According to 2008 tax filings, this subsidiary generated more than $14 million of the two groups' combined $23 million annual revenue stream. It's no wonder CBIA opposes these pioneering health care bills. If signed by Gov. Rell, the bills would create direct competition for CBIA. It could either lose market share or be forced to become more competitive — a possible hit to the group's bottom line, but a boon to small businesses.

In Washington, D.C., the health care reform debate is centered on whether to provide all Americans with the choice of a public health insurance plan. The American people have resoundingly said that they want this choice. A poll released by The New York Times recently shows that 72 percent of Americans want a public insurance option to compete with private insurance. As chief executive, Gov. Rell has a unique opportunity to enact and oversee the implementation of public plan choice in Connecticut, and show the rest of the country how it is done.

As our country moves toward a watershed moment in the decades-long struggle to bring quality, affordable health care to all Americans, Gov. Rell faces a clear choice. She can side with the entrenched interests who have stood in the way of reform for their own profit, or she can help Connecticut move forward as a national model for reform. She has a chance to be the "Governor of Yes." For the sake of Connecticut and of the country, let's hope she takes it.

Adam Thompson is the Senior Health Care Policy Specialist at Progressive States Network, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to enact progressive legislation in all 50 states.


June 18, 2009

RALLY URGES GOV. RELL TO APPROVE HEALTH CARE REFORM LEGISLATION

By Kyle Swartz
North Haven Citizen

Three dozen residents, religious leaders, and elected officials rallied on the town green June 16 to urge Gov. M. Jodi Rell to sign into law two health care reform bills recently routed to her desk.

State Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven, and State Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, led the 5:30 p.m. gazebo gathering, calling on Rell to pass legislation creating the SustiNet and the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership.

"It's important to get health care reform now," Fontana said. "We want the governor to take up the mantle of leadership and sign the health care reform bills now."

SustiNet, House Bill 6600, would establish a nine-member SustiNet Health Partnership Board of Directors that would make legislative recommendations by 2011 on the implementation of a universal and affordable self-insured health care delivery plan. The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, House Bill 6582, would make the Connecticut state employee health care plan voluntarily available to small businesses, municipalities, and non-profits.

A number of speakers followed Fontana, representing an array of individuals and professions in support of universal health care options. Most moving was North Haven resident Lisa Fabianski, who spoke of her brother's real-life tribulations of being without health care insurance upon losing his job.

"My brother has diabetes and gets no treatment," she said. "He recently went into shock and had to go into the hospital. All of this could be avoided if he had health care. Subsequently, the bank is foreclosing on his house."

Fabianski also spoke of two other relatives let go by their employers and currently without health care coverage.

"They must choose to pay for health care or their mortgage," Fabianski said.

Fabianski believed that health care was a matter of basic need. "Health insurance is as important as education," she said. "Why can't we have health care that's fair for everybody?"

"Let's not just give people basic health insurance," Fabianski added, "Let's give them good insurance."

Also in attendance to support health care reform was a member of the health care field.

"We are left with a health care system that is 1.5 times more expensive per capita than the next most expensive health care system in the world," said North Haven orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Connair. "We need reform."

"Insurance has let down Connecticut," Connair continued. "One-third of every health care dollar goes to middlemen and administrators."

"I have patients who must choose between paying for medication or treatment," Connair added. "It's a very sad affair, but its better here than in most states."

Crisco, Fontana's co-chair on the General Assembly's Insurance and Real Estate Committee, echoed Fontana in urging the governor to take a leadership role in health care reform. "It's time that Connecticut had the number one health care plan in the country," he said.

North Haven First Selectman Janet McCarty attended in support of health care reform. "One of the things that clergymen, politicians, and doctors do is the best thing we do - help people succeed," McCarty said. "And helping citizens get quality health care is one of the best things we can do. I hope the governor is listening – it is important that Connecticut gets those bills signed."

"I hope people in Connecticut, the country, and the world get the opportunity to get good health care," McCarty added.

Also represented at the rally were North Haven clergy, including the Rev. Mathew Lincoln of St. John's and the Rev. Scott Morrow of the North Haven Congregational Church.

"Health care shouldn't depend on what people can afford," Morrow said. "Rather, it should be provided without question."

Connecticut AARP advocacy director John Erlingheuser said that there are currently 630,000 members of the organization in the state, most aged between 50 and 64, and that when that age group loses health care, it is extremely difficult to reacquire coverage. "They either cannot afford it or are denied," Erlingheuser said. "The AARP has made health care reform a top concern in the state and the country."

Connecticut Education Association president Phil Apruzzese reminded the audience of the uncovered children of parents who cannot afford health care. "There is nothing worse than having in your classroom a student without health care," he said.

Both health care bills have been passed by the Connecticut House and Senate and are expected to arrive in Rell's office after June 22. The governor will then have 15 days to sign or veto the legislation.

As the rally ended, Fontana called for those in attendance to contact Rell's office in support of the health care reform bills.

"I pray these bills get passed," Fabianski said. "I really do."

Gov. Rell's office can be contacted at 1-800-406-1527 or Governor.Rell@ct.gov.


June 17, 2009

HEALTH REFORM MOVES TOWARD THE GOAL POST

by Melinda Tuhus
New Haven Independent

Lisa Fabianski
Melinda Tuhus Photo

People with posters

Steve Fontana

Lisa Fabianski's brother has diabetes and high blood pressure. He lost his job and his health insurance. He ended up in the hospital, and he lost his house. She told her story to urge Gov M. Jodi Rell to seize a chance next week to enable other people in Connecticut to avoid ending up telling stories like hers.

Fabianski (pictured) was the clean-up hitter at a Greater New Haven rally Tuesday evening to urge people to contact the governor to ask her to sign two bills that passed in late May in the state House and Senate.

In the past Rell has vetoed similar legislation.

One of the two bills awaiting the governor's signature would create a state-backed comprehensive plan called SustiNet (HB 6600). SustiNet aims to bring about universal health care through, among other features, cost-cutting, digitization of medical records, and an expansion of a government health insurance program to bring in employees of not-for-profits and many others who are uninsured or underinsured right now. (People would have a choice of choosing the new plan or sticking with an older private plan.)

The second bill (HB 6582), the Health Care Partnership, would also allow municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses to join the state employees' health insurance pool, cutting everyone's costs in the process.

State Rep. Steve Fontana said Tuesday that he expects the bills to be delivered to Gov. Rell by Monday, June 22; she'll have 15 days to sign them, veto them, or do nothing and let them become law.

The last-minute push to get Rell on board at the Tuesday rally on the North Haven Green featured tales of how these nitty-gritty legislative details affect real people's lives. Like Fabianski's.

Fabianski said other family members recently lost their jobs and their health coverage, or had no coverage to begin with. She has a pre-existing medical condition and could never get health coverage on her own. Luckily her husband is still working and has insurance.

"Why can't we have health insurance that's fair for everybody?" she asked. "I'm not against paying — I'll pay my fair share."

She went on to compare reduced health care savings through bigger pools to the savings shoppers achieve at big box stores. That's the pooling concept in a nutshell. If that doesn't make it past Jodi Rell's desk, Fabianski suggested taking up reform on the town level, or through a consortium of towns.

"Let's not just give people basic health insurance; let's give them good health insurance," she suggested, to applause from the 30 or so people gathered.

Later, she told a reporter, "People who have no money, they're taken care of, and people with money can take care of themselves. It's just the middle class who get messed up. Also, there could be a lot of people not retiring, because they have the money to retire, but they don't have the money for health care and retirement. Think about how many jobs would open up" if people who wanted to retire, could.

The event was emceed by North Haven State Rep. Fontana (pictured). He said he was inspired to run for office 15 years ago, after the Clinton health care debacle, specifically to work on health care reform. Now, as co-chair of the General Assembly's Insurance and Real Estate Committee, he has been providing leadership on just this issue. His committee co-chair, State Sen. Joe Crisco, also stopped by the rally to lend his support.

After the brief speeches, members of Health Care 4 All passed out fliers asking those present and their friends and family members to contact Gov. Rell by phone at 800-406-1527 or email here to urge her to sign both bills.


June 15, 2009

STATE'S TOP DEMS ENDORSE "PUBLIC OPTION" IN FEDERAL HEALTH REFORM
Two health bills awaiting from Governor Rell cited as models

By Anna Sale
WNPR

While President Obama spent his day trying to sell his health plan to doctors, Congressman Murphy was in Hartford emphatically declaring reform a political reality this year.

"The stars are aligned, this year, both in Washington and in Connecticut, to deliver before the year is over, affordable health care for every single resident of the United States of America."

Murphy sits on the House Commerce Committee, which handles health care reform legislation

He said two bills passed by the General Assembly this session provide good examples for a federal overhaul. One bill would create a framework for universal heath care with a plan called Sustinet. The other would open up the state employee health pool to nonprofits, municipalities and small businesses.

"Building on what the state legislature has done with its pooling bill and the elements of the Sustinet bill, we are looking in our health reform measure at trying to use the power of our Medicare pool and make those discounts available to more Americans."

Those two Connecticut bills aren't law yet, though. First, they have to go through Governor Jodi Rell. She has said she has concerns about their timing and eventual cost, but not whether she will veto them.

Speaker Chris Donovan said there's support in the House to get around a veto, but he was more tempered about predicting an override's success.

"If we have the votes to override, we certainly will. If we don't, the fight continues."

Speaker Donovan was among 132 Democratic state lawmakers who wrote a letter to President Obama, supporting the proposal to create a new public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Secretary of State

Susan Bysiewicz, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Comptroller Nancy Wyman, and Treasurer Denise Nappier also signed the letter.


June 15, 2009

STATE PUSHES FOR FEDERAL HEALTH CARE DEBATE

by Christine Stuart
CT News Junkie

Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5
Christine Stuart photo

More than 130 elected state lawmakers and officials signed a letter Monday urging US President Barack Obama and Connecticut's Congressional delegation to pass comprehensive health care reform in 2009.

U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said he would deliver the letter, which is an exact copy of the one authored by the Progressive States Network, to the president and lawmakers. However, he was certain the over-sized version of the letter on display for Monday's press conference would not fit in the plane's overhead compartment.

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, will travel to the White House on Wednesday to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House "Health Czar" Nancy-Ann DeParle. Donovan will also attend a press conference with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA and a delegation of Progressive States Network members.

"Here in Connecticut we have a lot to be proud of in terms of what we've done on health care," Donovan said referring to recent passage of two health care bills which are making their way to the governor's desk.

"We have been working hard on health care reform, but one state can't do it alone," Donovan said. "We need the help of the federal government."

"The stars are aligned this year, both in Washington and in Connecticut, to deliver before the year is over affordable health care to every single resident of the United States of America," Murphy said.

"This is a moral imperative getting health care to everybody in this country, but it's also an economic imperative," Murphy said.

He said even though the government isn't going to come in and take over the health care system, "it has a very important role to play in pooling the purchasing power of state employees, federal employees, Medicare, and Medicaid beneficiaries to try and get the best costs for consumers."

While a public option has been discussed at the federal level the 615 page Senate bill failed to describe how the public option would work.

"The idea behind the public option is to offer consumers and businesses a choice and to provide some real competition to private insurers," Murphy said. "If we're talking about potentially helping to subsidize health insurance for thousands, if not millions of Americans, then we want to make sure that the private health insurers have some real competition from a plan that has no profit motivation, no reason to prop up premiums to pay big CEO salaries, only has at its basis a fundamental obligation to provide care."

He said the public option would have to meet the same standards as private insurance companies. But "we think in order to really keep the private plans honest, they need a nonprofit, publicly sponsored health plan to compete," Murphy said.

But would a public option properly reimburse doctors for services performed?

"I believe the public option would have to pay above Medicare rates," Murphy said.

Murphy also said the House will unveil its federal health care legislation later this week or next week and anticipates it will outline what is meant by a public health care option.


May 26, 2009

O'BRIEN: HEALTH BILLS A BIG SAVINGS

By JAMES CRAVEN
Staff Writer
New Britain Herald

NEW BRITAIN — State Rep. Timothy O'Brien said passage by the state House of Representatives of two health-care bills promises to open doors to more affordable, quality health care for thousands of people while providing significant savings to businesses and towns.

"This is important legislation because it would help keep property taxes down and extend quality care coverage for small businesses," O'Brien said.

According to O'Brien, the state received a major push toward better health practices when the state House passed two significant proposals. The first, SustiNet, would make a new public health insurance choice available to individuals and businesses. The second, Health Care Partnership, will open the state employee health insurance plan to municipalities, nonprofits and small employers.

According to O'Brien, local taxpayers need the nearly $900,000 in savings that the legislation is estimated to provide by lowering how much the city would have to pay for health insurance.

The legislation also would convert the state health insurance plan from fully insured to self insured, eliminating millions of dollars in overhead costs and potentially saving the state up to $70 million.

"As I go door to door talking to people I represent, many people who own or work for small businesses and nonprofit organizations tell me how interested they are about the possibility of being able to get the quality state health plan at low premium prices from the state's bulk purchasing power," O'Brien said.

The SustiNet plan now goes to the state Senate and must be acted on by the end of the legislative session in two weeks.


May 26, 2009

BRINGING HEALTHCARE COSTS UNDER CONTROL
By State Rep. Kim Fawcett

Second chances tend to be in short supply at the state Capitol. But as the close of this legislative session draws near, Connecticut lawmakers have another shot at reducing health care costs and expanding insurance coverage for citizens across the state. I hope Gov. M. Jodi Rell will work with us to prevent this opportunity from slipping away as it did during the last session.

In 2008, as vice chair of the Connecticut General Assembly's Health Care Task Force, I worked as part of a team dedicated to passing legislation that would open the state employee health plan to other groups in our state, such as municipal employees, nonprofits and small businesses. The concept is simple: to give smaller groups that typically have difficulty negotiating affordable insurance coverage access to the state's rates and benefits. We succeeded in passing the Healthcare Partnership Act in both the House and Senate, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Rell.

Our team regrouped this year and has come back with an even better bill that would phase in the option to purchase state benefits. Our bill would self-insure the state's entire health plan for an immediate savings of $70 million. It would then phase in the extension of the state health plan, first to towns, then nonprofits, and finally to all businesses with fewer than 50 employees. So by the end of 2010, our struggling businesses and taxpayers would have another option when choosing health care.

Once again, critics of the bill have convinced many of my colleagues and the governor to oppose our proposal. It's interesting to note that many organizations opposing the legislation happen to sell health insurance to small businesses. These organizations would be forced to find efficiencies and lower their rates to compete with the state plan -- a healthy development in the marketplace and good for our overall economy.

Talking to many people in Fairfield and Westport over the past few years has convinced me that we can no longer afford to delay action on this legislation. Many of you tell me that while you have insurance coverage, rising premiums are taking a financial toll on your families. Our small businesses and self-employed families can barely afford health insurance for their families and workers. More and more frequently I hear from business owners who are choosing to phase out the extension of health care benefits because of the cost. The reality is that health care is becoming unaffordable for the average small business.

Those of us who have affordable coverage can't escape runaway costs. In fact, every homeowner is paying the price. Health care premiums for municipal employees, sometimes increasing by 10 percent to 15 percent a year, are covered by your town's property taxes. Why not help our municipalities keep premiums in check by offering them another option for providing insurance coverage?

As the health care bill moves through the Legislature, many of us hope the governor will change her tune and help our communities combat rising health care costs. Calls and notes from constituents like you could make the difference. Tell her you believe in second chances.

State Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-133, represents Fairfield and Westport.


May 26, 2009

HEALTH INSURANCE DEMANDS REFORMS

Connecticut Post Staff

We know all about the problems.

As health care costs rise, policy holders find coverage increasingly unaffordable. Employers are having more trouble paying their own share of insurance costs. And the recession is growing the ranks of the uninsured, forcing more people to resort to emergency rooms for basic medical care.

The United States is far too wealthy a nation, and Connecticut too rich a state, to allow people to forego basic and preventative health care because they either don't have insurance or the plan they have won't cover their needs. By skipping regular checkups, health problems don't go away -- they simply become more serious and more costly.

Reform is in the offing. President Barack Obama has made health care a centerpiece of his agenda, and talks are under way for a wholesale rethinking of the nation's insurance system. But instead of waiting for Washington to move, state leaders are wisely going forward with a plan that could bring meaningful change by tackling the three pillars of health care reform -- coverage, cost and delivery.

The state House of Representatives last week approved a plan known as SustiNet that would open up state employees' health insurance to anyone in the state. Under the bill's parameters, no one could be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and everyone's risk would decline as more people enter the coverage pool.

This is not a plan to eliminate private coverage; by contrast, it's an additional competitor that could spur cost reductions across the spectrum. The plan emphasizes prevention rather than reaction, and also increases reimbursement rates for providers.

The easy argument against such a plan is cost, and with an out-of-control state budget deficit, that's where opponents are aiming. But such an argument ignores the fact we're already paying a high price -- no one is currently denied basic health care, but the costs are much higher than they need to be.

The state Senate is due to consider the bill in short order, and, should it pass, it's on to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose views on the matter are anyone's guess. But there is one certainty -- the system as it exists is unsustainable, and reform is unavoidable. This is a chance to help correct one of our most persistent challenges.

We're already paying the price. This is a chance to bring a degree of equity, and fairness, to an out-of-control system. The Senate should approve the bill and the governor should sign it.


May 25, 2009

HEALTH CARE REFORM GAINS MOMENTUM

By SCOTT WHIPPLE
Special to The Herald

Health care reform in Connecticut got a major push last week when the House of Representatives passed two significant proposals aimed at fixing the state's health care crisis.

SustiNet (HB 6600) would make a new public health insurance choice available to individuals and businesses. The Health Care Partnership (HB 6582) would open the state employee health insurance plan to municipalities, nonprofits and small employers.

"Both of these plans reduce costs and increase choice," said Juan Figueroa, president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. "The Partnership bill has features that SustiNet can build on. The two bills fit hand in glove."

Stating that SustiNet would make Connecticut "Obama-ready," foundation officials added that the plan would put the state ahead of the pack in the race for federal resources.

"Connecticut is leading the charge in finding ways to provide health care for the uninsured," U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "As we begin to craft a national health care reform bill, Connecticut's progress will provide real examples of how important reform is to our nation."

The SustiNet plan now goes to the Senate and must be acted on by the end of the legislative session in two weeks.

The legislative action came one day after the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, as part of its Health Care for America Now campaign, released a report showing that consolidation in the private health insurance industry is creating skyrocketing premiums for both patients and employers. The report states that:

n Health insurance premiums for Connecticut working families have increased 81 percent from 2000 to 2007. At the same time, the median earnings of Connecticut workers increased 10 percent from $32,106 to $35,281. That means health insurance premiums for Connecticut working families have risen 8.2 times faster than wages.

n For family health coverage in Connecticut during that time, the average annual combined premium for employers and employees rose from $7,292 to $13,173.

n From 2000 to 2007 the average employer's portion of annual premiums for family coverage in Connecticut rose 75 percent, while the average worker's share grew by 104 percent.

In Connecticut, the state and most metropolitan areas are considered "highly concentrated" under U.S. Department of Justice guidelines. Consolidation of this kind means an insurer can, without fear of consequences, raise premiums and/or reduce the variety of plans or quality of services offered to customers.

"When just a couple of companies hold a near-monopoly, they not only set the prices, but they also make the rules and call the shots," said CCAG's deputy director, Phil Sherwood. "Private health insurance companies have proven year after year they'll do whatever they want when left to their own devices. It's time for real comprehensive reform that includes regulation and the choice of a public health insurance plan."

The American Medical Association reports that the health insurance marketplace is "dangerously concentrated" with 94 percent of local markets in the United States currently considered highly concentrated. Sherwood says contrary to what the health insurance industry claims, these mergers have undermined market efficiency. Premiums nationwide have gone up an average of more than 87 percent over the past six years.

"There is no real choice or competition in the private health insurance market, and only giving everyone the option of a public health insurance plan will guarantee we get quality, affordable health care we all can count on this year," said Paul Filson, Connecticut director of Service Employees International Union.


May 24, 2009

A CREATIVE PLAN FOR AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
By State Representative Betsy Ritter

Betsy Ritter
By Associated Press
Rep. Betsy Ritter, right, of Waterford, chats with
Rep. Tom Reynolds of Gales Ferry as the Connecticut
General Assembly opens the 2009 session in January
at the state Capitol in Hartford.

Health care is costing everyone more these days. From families to small businesses to municipalities and everyone in between, we are all feeling the pain.

The good news is that there is a creative proposal on the table that will allow us to make progress on health care affordability this year by expanding access and saving money for towns, businesses, and workers - even helping us balance the state budget.

The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership will allow small businesses, nonprofits and municipalities to buy into the state employee health care plan. The partnership is completely voluntary, but can offer participants significant savings.

While many small employers have watched their health insurance costs skyrocket over the last several years, the state has been using the bargaining power of 200,000 employees, their dependents and retirees to buy health care in bulk - negotiating lower costs without eroding benefits.

Similar to shopping at a wholesale store, bulk purchasing saves consumers money. It is exactly this power of numbers that allows for the negotiation of lower prices. This then translates to savings for towns and small businesses, so they can stretch their budgets a little further.

The partnership proposal also offers financial advantages to the state. A provision of the bill would allow the state to self-insure the plan, resulting in a one-time savings of at least $70 million. The state would also incur annual savings as fewer dollars are spent on insurance policies and more go directly to health care. As we face historic deficits in the state budget, we cannot afford delay in implementing this plan.

Plan is a positive step

The partnership is a major step forward toward our broader reform goals of improving health care access, quality and affordability across the board.

Implementing the partnership plan is a viable goal this year, but it is not our final destination. As the chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, I have had the pleasure of working on several pieces of legislation, which would address other pieces of the puzzle.

Among them is the SustiNet proposal, a comprehensive plan that lays out a framework for opening the state employees' plan to even more residents while containing costs, promoting preventive care and laying the groundwork federal health care reform.

My Democratic colleagues and I will continue to enhance health care transparency, create a clearinghouse of information on health insurance options, lower prescription costs and allow the state to capture more federal dollars for the health care programs it offers to low income residents. In fact, the budget passed by the General Assembly's Appropriation's Committee restored the governor's cuts to programs that would have precluded Connecticut from receiving stimulus dollars for state health programs.

We can't wait for reform to come from Washington; we need to make Connecticut the leader on health care affordability now. The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership is a key first step and the SustiNet proposal will take us further down the road towards that goal.

Betsy Ritter represents the 38th district of Waterford and Montville. The three-term Democrat serves as co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee and is a member Appropriations and Energy & Technology committees.


May 21, 2009

PSN LAUDS PASSAGE OF CT BILLS TO CREATE OPTION OF PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN
Landmark bills stand as models for national reform

NEW YORK - The Progressive States Network warmly applauds the Connecticut House of Representatives' passage last night of two landmark bills that would each create the choice of a public health insurance plan in the state, the Connecticut Health Partnership, and SustiNet.  The votes underscore the growing momentum at the state level for the choice of a public plan, a priority for reform endorsed by many health care advocates and lawmakers at the national level.

Said Progressive States Network Senior Health Care Policy Specialist Adam Thompson, "If lawmakers in the insurance industry capital of the world can build the political will to pass legislation including the choice of a public health insurance plan, then surely our leaders in Washington DC can do the same."  

He continued, "The passage of these bills puts Connecticut right at the heart of the national health care debate.  A focal point of that debate is whether to provide Americans with the choice of a public health insurance plan that competes side-by-side with private plans.  Connecticut lawmakers, as well as legislators across the country, are weighing in and saying that public plan choice is an absolute necessity.  As the Obama Administration and Congress continue the debate around health care reform, we hope they will continue to look to the states as active collaborators in the drive to extend quality, affordable care to everyone."   

Thirty states currently offer state employees a public option side-by-side with private plans.  Last year, Connecticut passed a similar version of the Healthcare Partnership, and similar proposals surfaced this year in Iowa and New Hampshire. Proposals to create public plans are also being debated in Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and New York.  Many states have created public insurance choice for all children, most notably Illinois' AllKids program.

The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, sponsored by Speaker Christopher Donovan, would open up the state employee health insurance pool to small businesses, non-profits and municipalities, and SustiNet, authored by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, would create a new public health insurance plan choice for residents and businesses.

Progressive States Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the work of progressive state legislators around the country and to the passage of state legislation that delivers on issues the issues that matter to working families: strong wage standards and workplace freedom, balancing work and family responsibilities, health care for all, smart growth and clean energy, tax and budget reform, clean and fair elections, and technology investments to bridge the digital divide.


May 21, 2009

CONNECTICUT HOUSE BACKS UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE COVERAGE

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
The Hartford Courant

The state House of Representatives took a major step Wednesday night toward resolving an issue that has long defied a solution — guaranteeing health care coverage to tens of thousands of Connecticut residents without health insurance.

After a debate that lasted 2½ hours, the House voted largely along party lines, 107-35, for a landmark bill aimed at achieving universal health care in Connecticut by creating a public insurance pool that anyone could join, regardless of their health history.

The pool, backed by a coalition of social activists, religious leaders and Democratic lawmakers, would be based on the existing pool for state employees, and is designed to compete with — not replace — private insurance plans.

It is still not clear when, or if, the so-called SustiNet plan could become law.

The state Senate still needs to act, and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has been pushing her own Charter Oak health plan, could veto it. The costs are expected to be a major sticking point, especially with the state's projected budget deficit of $8.7 billion over the next two fiscal years.

The insurance industry has also pitched an alternate concept for expanding health coverage. That plan would also create an insurance pool for people who lack coverage, but instead of using a public pool, the plan would have insurers offer coverage for the people in the pool.

Advocates for the universal plan stressed that Connecticut must be ready to act now that President Barack Obama has called for passage of a national health care plan.

"We've got a chance to make sure Connecticut is Obama-ready," said House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a longtime advocate for health care improvements. "The time for health care reform in this country, and in Connecticut, is long overdue. With reform now a national priority, we can position Connecticut for a leadership role in giving our families health care they deserve."

In a separate measure, the House voted Wednesday night for a major "pooling" bill that would allow cities and towns, along with small businesses and nonprofit agencies, to join the state's health insurance pool of 200,000 people.

After a seven-hour debate that lasted even longer than a recent clash over abolishing the death penalty, the House voted in favor of the pooling bill. Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor and House Republicans voted unanimously against.

Wednesday was clearly health care day at the Capitol as two huge pieces of health legislation moved forward in debates that lasted from 12:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.

"Both of these plans reduce costs and increase choice," said Juan A. Figueroa, a former state legislator from Hartford who serves as president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. "The partnership [pooling] bill has features that SustiNet can build on. The two bills fit hand in glove."

The foundation has cultivated a wide base of support, including religious leaders, small business owners, and the Connecticut Medical Society. But the plan has drawn opposition from business and the insurance industry.

Much of the universal plan might not take effect for years, which Rell's spokesman, Christopher Cooper, says is a problem.

"It's bad public policy to tie the hands of a future legislature in that way," Cooper said.

The pooling bill that the House passed is designed to cut health costs through economies of scale, but opponents said the bill is deeply flawed because it would not help anyone who currently lacks health insurance.

Rell vetoed a similar pooling measure last year, and her budget director continued to express opposition Wednesday. But Donovan had pushed for the bill to come back this year, and health care advocates praised the measure as a major step forward. Donovan has traveled around the state for the past two years, touting the idea to various audiences.

The pooling plan had virtually unanimous support among the House Democrats who backed Donovan, but it was harshly criticized for hours by the House Republicans.

"This is an historic occasion," said Rep. Steve Fontana, a North Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature's insurance committee. "The larger the pool you have ... you reduce the volatility and the risk associated with that pool. ... Pooling is a win, win, win."

The Democrats rejected the notion by Republicans that the pooling concept could lead to even higher costs as workers with bad claims histories join the pool."This is the time that Connecticut needs to act on the largest issue that faces the country. We cannot sit by," said House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, a Storrs Democrat. "I would argue this is a large step toward making progress" to get health care costs under control. "We are taking some risk, but we are making an important advance."


May 20, 2009

SUSTINET PLAN PASSES HOUSE

by Christine Stuart
CT News Junkie

After more than two hours of debate the House by a vote of 107 to 35 passed the SustiNet bill, which proponents say will reform the way health care is delivered in the state of Connecticut.

The bill is a stripped down version of a proposal originally made by the Universal Health Care Foundation in January. It will create a nine-member board of directors, three task forces, and four advisory committees that will make recommendations to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2011. The ultimate goal of the board will be to recommend a health care plan that guarantees every resident in the state has health insurance.

The goal of the board of directors will be to offer a public health insurance option to individuals and businesses through the creation of a massive pool which includes state employees and individuals in state Medicaid programs. The pool would be expanded to uninsured individuals and employers.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, said the bill was intended to create a public option to those offered by the private insurance market.

Critics said they're still concerned that this bill would lead to a state run health insurance program.

"I'm still concerned about where this is headed," Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, said Wednesday.

Ritter said the voluntary, unpaid board of directors will work with four committees of stakeholders which will advise the board on medical electronic records, medical homes, clinical care guidelines, and preventative care. There will also be three task forces which will make recommendations on preventing obesity, tobacco use, and health care workforce shortages.

The Universal Health Care Foundation's President Juan Figueroa said in a press release Wednesday that passage of both the pooling bill and SustiNet "reduce costs and increase choice."

He said the two bills compliment each other and put Connecticut ahead of the pack in the race for federal resources.
"As we begin to craft a national health care reform bill, Connecticut's progress will provide real examples of how important reform is to our nation," US Rep. Chris Murphy said in a press release.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.


May 7, 2009

HEALTH CARE POOLING BILL GETS A BOOST

Christine Stuart photo
John Yrchik, executive director of the
Connecticut Education Association
Christine Stuart photo

by Christine Stuart
CT News Junkie

The rising cost of health care has labor leaders and local elected officials joining forces to lobby for the passage of a bill which would allow municipal employees, nonprofits, and small businesses to join the state employees health insurance pool.

"While we do not agree on everything it is safe and fair to say that on this issue we agree that it is important that everyone be afforded an opportunity to participate in the state employee health insurance pool," John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said Thursday.

"Extraordinary times require government to do extraordinarily difficult things. This is not one of those, "Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said. "This is easy."

Malloy, whose city saw double-digit increases in health care costs last year said this type of legislation simply makes sense.

Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said 85 to 86 percent of towns would see savings over their current health care plans, if they were able to participate in the state employees health insurance pool.

On average, individuals would save more than 14 percent and families would save 15 percent if they were able to participate in the state pool, Luciano said.

Christine Stuart photo
Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy
Christine Stuart photo

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said "Even in the best economic times I would be here supporting this legislation."

He said giving school system leaders the option of reducing their health care costs means more money for programs that benefit the children. The threat of layoffs and bigger classroom sizes is very real for many communities across the state, he said.

Based on what he's hearing from school superintendents, Cirasuolo said, any school system that gets a one percent increase in their budget is very lucky. He said most schools are seeing no increases and some are seeing their budgets cut.

Last year Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a similar bill.

But education advocates, labor leaders, and local elected officials remained optimistic that this year the bill may pass.

"We believe the fiscal stress on municipalities is much greater this," Yrchik said. "There's an even more compelling reason to pass this legislation this year than last year."

Luciano said Rell may have vetoed the bill last year, but she did so with a lot of praise.

Since then Rell has agreed to allow municipalities to make purchases through the state for things like office supplies. Luciano said purchasing health care shouldn't be treated any differently than paperclips.

Malloy said this year people know more about the bill than they did last year when it was first introduced.


May 4, 2009

GETTING UP TO SPEED ON THE NATIONAL DEBATE

by Christine Stuart
CT News Junkie

Christine Stuart photo
US Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5
Christine Stuart photo

The prospects for health care reform have never been better in Washington, US Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, told two state legislative committee's Monday.

Now in his second-term, Murphy said he may be a "neophyte," but he said he has a sense that "this is the moment" for large scale health care reform.

"You can just feel it in the air," he said.

But it's more than just a feeling.

President Barack Obama has made health care reform a priority, there's more bipartisanship than suspected in the Congress, and in recent surveys the American public in light of the current economic crisis have said it's more important than ever, Murphy told committee members.

In addition, the Democratic majority in Washington has all but guaranteed health care reform will pass this year by adding it to the list of measures that will be treated as part of the budget resolution process.

An arcane rule in the US Senate allows for one budget resolution vote, which only has to pass with 51 votes, instead of the 60-vote supermajority normally required to avoid a filibuster. With at least 58 Democrats possibly 60 in the Senate, it all but guarantees that the Democrats would not need a single Republican vote in the House or the Senate to pass some sort of health care reform measure.

Murphy said the budget resolution vote can't be used before Oct. 15, so it gives lawmakers the summer to work out a bipartisan agreement.

Christine Stuart photo
Left to right: Rep. Steve Fontana,
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan,
and Rep. Betsy Ritter
Christine Stuart photo

What about the money?

Murphy said the budget Congress just passed sets aside $600 billion for health care reform.

"The money is there just waiting for a bill to be passed," he said.
The health care reforms being proposed vary from a single-payer type health care system to changing the rules of the private insurance market to creating an individual mandate.

Murphy said the middle ground would be to mandate everyone have coverage, similar to the individual mandate Massachusetts currently has in place.

He said there's also a proposed to have a federally sponsored health care plan compete in the private marketplace.

Joy Johnson Wilson, the director of health policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the legislative committees Monday that a public plan doesn't exist yet. She said if you ask 10 people on Capitol Hill what a public plan means to them, you'll get 10 different answers.

She said there are plenty of discussions about the issue, but many questions remain, such as will there be an individual mandate or employer mandate? Will there be a direct premium subsidy or a tax credit?

Wilson said she expects draft bills, which will begin to answer these questions, will be available in the next two to three weeks.


May 2, 2009

STATE MUST ADDRESS HEALTH CARE ISSUES
By State Representative Linda Gentile

Healthcare — it is costing everyone much more these days. From families to small businesses to municipalities and everyone in between…no one is immune. While the Federal Government discusses and deliberates what course of action must be taken, Connecticut can not, and must not wait. Connecticut needs to lead the way to affordable healthcare and the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership is the key first step.

The Partnership allows for small businesses, non-profits and municipalities to voluntarily buy into the state employee healthcare plan. This allowance can offer participants significant savings. In the current economic climate every penny saved is significant.

Choosing to enter into the Partnership for many small businesses and non-profits could be the key to staying afloat, continuing to provide jobs and much needed community services. Furthermore, it might be one of the only ways for municipalities to combat rising local property taxes by lowering one of the most expensive budget items that cities and towns face. It is the Partnership's ability to buy healthcare in bulk that will lead to these lower prices. When you consider that 75 percent of businesses in Connecticut employ less than ten people, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership's impact will be enormous.

Currently, there are over 200,000 individually insured members in the state insurance pool. Imagine the bargaining power that would be created by potentially adding to that pool more than an additional 100,000 individuals. It is exactly this power of numbers that allows for the negotiation of lower prices. This, in turn, translates to savings for towns, small businesses and. non-profits, controlling local taxes, protecting and. preserving jobs, and allowing budgets to stretch a little further.

The state employee health plan provides quality benefits to state workers at a relatively affordable price. The State of Connecticut Healthcare Cost Containment Committee has done a commendable job of keeping costs down. With this in mind, who wouldn't want to receive low cost comprehensive quality healthcare benefits at an affordable rate? The savings to small businesses, non-profits and municipalities who choose to par­ticipate is real and demonstrative. Although it may be different for various groups and individuals, it is, nevertheless real. For those rare instances where it does not benefit a town, business or non-profit, they can and should opt not to participate.

A recent Families USA Report estimated that 81% of the uninsured in Connecticut are working families. Our workforce and our families deserve better and it is my belief that this controlled expansion of available coverage could become the start of assisting the more than 750,000 uninsured in this state, not to mention the hundreds of thousands that are underinsured.

Small businesses, non-profits and municipalities can simply not afford to wait. Connecticut must take this first step and in s6 doing, become a leader in making quality healthcare affordable and a model for national reform.

Linda Gentile represents the 104th district of Ansonia and Derby. State Rep. Gentile is in her third-term and serves as Vice Chair of the Public Health. Committee and is a member of the Commerce and Planning & Development Committees.


April 30, 2009

HEALTH CARE ACCESS LEGISLATION MAY PROVIDE WINDFALL TO SCHOOL DISTRICT

By John Voke
The Newtown Bee

Newtown's State Representative Christopher Lyddy is pleased that the local municipal budget passed in referendum this week, but is concerned that belt-tightening at the school district will negatively impact "educational opportunities and transportation needs" of Newtown's children.

The freshman legislator, who serves on the state's Education Committee, drafted a memo to School Superintendent Janet Robinson this week, identifying "a potentially significant cost saving measure" for the district.

In the letter, which was copied to the school business manager, town financial directorand First Selectman Joe Borst, Rep Lyddy acknowledges "the state is currently facing a large deficit over the next two years," and that "health care costs continue to climb at alarming rates, often putting small businesses, municipalities and school districts in strenuous situations."

It is Rep Lyddy's hope that the Health Care Partnership bill that is being heard in the General Assembly can have moderate to significant cost savings for Connecticut's towns and Boards of Education.

"House Bill 6582 allows small businesses of 1–50 employees, nonprofit organizations and municipalities to buy into the state's health care plan," Rep Lyddy related in his letter. "With just over 600 staff members taking advantage of your medical benefits plan, there are potential savings under this proposal."

He informed Dr Robinson that he bill will be brought to a full vote in the upcoming weeks.

"I hope that you will consider the potential benefits of this bill for our district," he wrote. "If passed, the district could be able to take advantage of these benefits within the next year."

Rep Lyddy told The Bee that the benefits for this plan will vary from community to community, and he is ready to work with the appropriate people in town to explore what the potential windfall could be for Newtown.

Part of the reason the town needs to make cuts is because health care costs increase each year, Rep Lyddy said. "The bill could help make health care a more affordable and predictable part of the budget."


April 29, 2009

BYSIEWICZ PUSHES PLAN AT HEALTH CARE ROUNDTABLE

By SAMUEL COOPER
Press correspondent
Middletown Press

Matt Lesser

MIDDLETOWN — Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz continued her push to open the state employees' health plan to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and municipal employees Wednesday during a roundtable meeting with supportive lawmakers and business representatives at the Russell Library.

The meeting was intended to generate discussion on finding affordable means to increase health care coverage.

About 758,000 Connecticut residents went without health care for six months or more last year, Bysiewicz said, calling the situation "shameful."

Bysiewicz has been holding meetings around the state with fellow Democrats to rally support for House Bill 6582, which would create the Connecticut Health Partnership. The partnership would allow businesses with fewer than 50 employees, nonprofit organizations and municipal employees to voluntarily buy into the state employee health plan.

That would create a large pool of health insurance customers to give them leverage for lower costs from health care providers and drug manufacturers, as well as reducing administrative costs, Bysiewicz said.

A similar proposal was passed by the House and Senate last year before being vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who cited a possible increase in costs to taxpayers.

Many Republicans also balked at the possible cost increase.

Given the current economic climate, the governor will not be endorsing this year's bill, said Jeffrey Beckham, from the governor's Office of Policy and Management.

"It's essentially the same kind of concerns this year that we had last year."

"The state has existing health contracts that do not include an expanded pool," he said. "We cut a pretty good deal, and it's good for three years."

Based on information obtained from the Comptroller's Office, switching to the new plan could result in a 5.9 percent increase in rates guaranteed under the current plan, Beckham said.

"This translates into an additional $69 million in health costs for active and retired state employees in [fiscal year] 2010."

Bysiewicz argued Wednesday the bill was vetoed last year in part due to aggressive lobbying by insurance providers.

"Insurance companies were concerned profit margins would be driven down due to increased bargaining power," she said. "That was the beauty of the bill."

Jean Dunning and Karen Gumkowski, of the small business advocacy group MERG (Micro Enterprise Resource Group), spoke at the meeting in favor of the proposal.

Utility costs and health care costs are the largest concerns for small-business owners, Dunning said, adding many small businesses are unable to afford health care for employees due to the possibility of a catastrophic accident or illness.

"[The proposal] would keep [people] from working for Target just to get insurance," she said.

Democratic leaders at the meeting Wednesday said they believe they can override a possible veto this year if they can garner support from a couple of Republicans in the Senate.

"Make sure all 36 senators know how important it is to us to pass this legislation," said state Rep. Joe Serra, D-33rd District, adding moderate Senate Republicans are "the key" to overriding a possible veto.


April 28, 2009

LEGISLATORS AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS WORK TO PUSH DOWN HEALTH CARE COSTS

Bristol Today Blog

State Representatives John Geragosian (D-New Britain), Peter Tercyak (D-New Britain), Tim O'Brien (D-New Britain) and Betty Boukus (D-Plainville, New Britain)  joined Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz Tuesday at a regional roundtable with area small business owners an non-profits to discuss business-friendly health care policies that will help New Britain area companies thrive. 

The General Assembly is currently debating legislation to save small businesses thousands of dollars annually in employee health care costs. The plan would open the state employee health insurance plan to small businesses, municipal employees and non-profits. 

Rep. Geragosian said, "You save money when you buy in bulk.  That is the simple principle behind the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership.  If you were able to join the huge state employee health care pool, your costs would drop dramatically."

There are currently more than 200,000 people in the state insurance pool. 

Amy Gladysz and her husband John, owners of Orbitech Satellite Services in Plainville, have seen their premiums multiply over the last several years.

"We pay thousands of dollars a year for our insurance policy, but the prescription limits are so low, that we spend thousands of dollars more for the medication we need to stay healthy," Amy Gladysz said. "If our business had access to the state plan, we would save substantially on out of pocket expenses."

Rep. Tercyak said, "Between co-pays and yearly benefit maximums too many folks are finding that their insurance isn't adequate.  One local business owner has insurance, she told me, but she's developed diabetes and now she learns that she her yearly maximum only covers three months of meds and testing supplies.  Three months.  We can do better than that for her and for other business people.  I say they deserve the choice.  I'm sure a lot of them will find the state employees' insurance options are comprehensive, attractive choices."  

"The implementation of health care pooling will provide an opportunity for thousands of our fellow citizens to be able to obtain quality health care protection at an affordable cost," Rep. O'Brien said. "Municipalities, small businesses and non-profits will be able to participate and that participation will be voluntary, not mandatory. This is a landmark first step to that needs to be taken now."  

Rep. Boukus said, "Health care costs are making it difficult for businesses to grow and provide jobs in our communities.  Government must improve the business climate and lowering health care costs is a good place to start."

Thomas Morrow, Executive Director of Bristol Community Organization, said that like many small businesses and non-profits, BCO has seen its healthcare costs skyrocket over the last several years. In order to continue offering health benefits, the agency was forced to increase the employee-paid share, by switching to health savings accounts (HSAs).

"My employees complained that health savings accounts were too onerous to navigate and the out-of-pocket costs were too high. The following year, we offered a traditional plan in addition to HSAs and every employee opted into the traditional plan, even though the premiums were higher," Morrow said. "Having access to the state plan would bring our costs down, while enabling us to offer our staff the quality health benefits they deserve."

The lawmakers met with business owners Tuesday at the New Britain YMCA.


April 8, 2009

HEALTH CARE PARTNERSHIP ACT VITAL: LEGISLATORS

By Alison Walkley
Fairfield Citizen

State Reps. Kim Fawcett, D-133, and Tom Drew, D-132, along with Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, joined small business owners for a roundtable discussion on health-care policies at the Fairfield Public Library.

On April 1, the three politicos came to speak about House Bill 6582, An Act Establishing the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, also known as The Health Care Partnership Act. The bill proposes to open the state employee insurance plan to nonstate public employers, municipal-related employers, small employers and nonprofit employers. The plan would allow for self-insurance, a risk management method in which a calculated amount of money is set aside to compensate for potential future losses.

Bysiewicz added, "Over 300,000 business entities in the state struggle to afford health insurance. This is a great concern to me. One in 10 Connecticut residents had no health insurance or were underinsured last year. That's 768,000 people. This is shameful given that we live in the insurance state."

A similar bill came close to becoming law last year, she explained. "Unfortunately, the governor vetoed it." The reason behind this decision involved Gov. M. Jodi Rell believing insurance would become "more  expensive" when the "opposite is actually the case," Bysiewicz said.

In a letter to Bysiewicz last June, Rell wrote, "[As] currently conceived, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership is not the panacea it purports to be. The Partnership would, instead, do relatively little to increase the number of insured in the state while largely duplicating an existing program at a substantial -- and potentially enormous -- cost to taxpayers. I must stress the phrase "as currently conceived." Not only do I believe the measure is well-intentioned, I also believe the concept has real potential to help at least some cities, towns, nonprofits and small businesses reduce their health care costs "¦ I would welcome an opportunity to work with supporters of H.B. 5536 to develop a revised and workable proposal for consideration in the next regular legislative session."

This being the case, panelists are confident that the kinks have been worked out and Rell will get behind them this time around. One such obstacle was the idea that every group under the partnership would come into the state insurance pool all at once. If enacted, businesses would be phased in; beginning in July, municipalities would be eligible for the health-care plan; six months later, nonprofits become eligible; finally, another six months later, small businesses will be able to jump on board, including self-employed individuals.

"This time, our support is growing," Bysiewicz said. "Last year, 40,000 people in the state lost their jobs. Between 60 and 100,000 may lose their jobs this year. We must make sure people have access to health insurance."

Fawcett followed with an explanation about the bill's intent. "It's very specific. We honed in on the small businesses, nonprofits and municipalities who pay too much in monthly premiums. Our benefits are far less," she said of the state insurance plan for state employees that the aforementioned groups will be eligible for under the bill. "We want to give you another choice to add to the mix."

Fawcett said health insurance is one of the top issues Fairfielders come to her with. "It's very serious," she said. "I feel that our work last year laid the foundation."

Drew added, "The fundamental idea is that state employee health insurance policies tend to be less expensive than others. When a large group is covered, the state has a greater bargaining ability "¦ Bringing this to you will also bring in tax savings at a time when it's more important than ever."

"As President Obama has said, we have ignored reforming our health-care system for too long and the cost is breaking our economy," Bysiewicz said. "Last year, a record number of businesses shut their doors in Connecticut. Entrepreneurs all over the state, especially the owners of small businesses, tell my office the biggest drag on their profits is the skyrocketing cost of providing health coverage for their employees. It is clear now more than ever that economic recovery in Connecticut depends in large part on providing small businesses and non-profits with quality, affordable options for health care. This is a key economic development issue."

Joshua Grant, owner of Abi-Jay Novelty Food of Bridgeport, spoke about how health-care costs had proven an obstacle for his business and how they prevent many small businesses from ever getting off the ground. "Business is stifled because people won't venture out into entrepreneurship. We don't know how many people work somewhere like Home Depot and have a great business idea, but they won't leave their jobs because they rely on their health care."

Dr. Robert Kipp of Pro Health Chiropractic in Fairfield said, "As both a provider and a small business owner, I can see from both perspectives the need for a program like this. I see so many patients who work for small businesses who do not have health insurance, so for them receiving care becomes an out-of-pocket expense. As an employer, this proposal would make offering high-quality health care more affordable."

Drew added, "The key to this bill is that it gives these employers the option, not the requirement, to join the state plan. Presumably, they would only make that choice if they would reduce their premium cost or experienced superior coverage at a better price. While implementing this proposal is not free of challenges and questions, to the businesses, taxpayers and insured that would benefit, it is worth those efforts."

He continued, "This is not a partisan issue. At the end of the day, this is in the consumer's benefit."

"Now more than ever we need to take action to help our small business community bring down the costs of health insurance," Fawcett concluded. "The Health Care Partnership Act brings an option to our business community that they desperately deserve. Connecticut is the home of insurance companies nationwide. If we become the first state to allow small businesses to purchase this, and we take on the insurance companies, that's a big nationwide message to send."

At present, the General Assembly is debating the proposed legislation. The Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate as well as the Committee on Planning and Development voted in favor of the bill as of Monday. According to Fawcett, the Appropriations Committee will be the last to vote, which should be "in the next week or two."

State Sen. John McKinney, R-28, has reservations about the bill, which he voted against last year. "This has been before us for four or five years now," he said yesterday afternoon. "Each time it's been changed to address a criticism.

"This year's bill requires two things: one, canceling the current contract for state employee health care, which is not supposed to end until July 1, 2011, and switching from a fully insured health-care plan, to self-insured."

McKinney explained that the current contract for state employee health care saved the state $58 million the last fiscal year, has a zero-percent increase this year, and is intended to have a modest increase in the last year. "It's a very good deal for the state of Connecticut," he said.

As far as self-insurance goes, the senator is wary about how costs are going to be controlled. He said, "Their may be no premiums if it's managed well, but as a state we don't have the personnel to deal with this. We would have to contract it out to a third party to administer the plan. How much will it cost us to contract out these services? Nobody has been able to give us an answer yet."

McKinney said although he is "not opposed to self-insurance," he doesn't have enough answers to make a well-informed decision on the bill.

State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134, was unavailable for comment before press time.


March 25, 2009

HEALTH CARE POOLING

By Brian Lockhart
Staff Writer, Stamford Advocate

HARTFORD -- Even as state lawmakers tout the benefits of opening the state's health plan to nonemployees, they still were unsure how key aspects, including participation, funding and billing, would work.

"It's still fluid," House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, said Wednesday.

For the past few years, Donovan and other health care advocates have said the state could address the problem of the uninsured and underinsured by opening up to others the health insurance offered to more than 200,000 state employees.

The General Assembly last year passed a proposal allowing municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses to participate in the state plan, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Rell at the time said the state had saved an estimated $54 million by renegotiating its private health plans, and some insurers threatened to rebid their rates if forced to accept anyone but state workers.

Donovan is pushing a revived bill this session that seeks to return Connecticut to the self-insured model abandoned in the late 1990s and have state government pay the claims.

The legislation was recently voted out of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.

While the goals of opening the plan remain the same as in the legislation Rell vetoed, behind the scenes there is debate over whether participation should be phased in.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz was in Norwalk on Wednesday touting the benefits to small business owners. But Comptroller Nancy Wyman, whose office would help administer the plan, said in an interview that Donovan has decided to focus initially on cities and towns.

"The legislation Representative Donovan has right now says municipalities will come in as of Jan. 1, 2010," Wyman said, adding that coverage for employees of nonprofit groups and small businesses would follow months or a year later.

But Donovan denied Wednesday that the proposal was firm.

There also appears to be a lack of detail on how a self-insured state plan would be administered.

During Bysiewicz's forum Wednesday, Tony Soegaard, president of Penmar Industries Inc., said the idea of pooling was appealing as long as his employees' claims were handled as efficiently as by private insurers.

"I'll have a lot of unhappy employees if they get claims processed in a couple of days, and now it will be weeks," Soegaard said. Soegaard was told the comptroller would handle the claims if the state were self-insured.

But Wyman said her office will have to contract with a third-party claims administrator.

Wyman said she was more concerned about another area of disagreement: whether to build up a reserve account to ensure the state would not suddenly have to increase patient premiums mid-year if the costs of self-insuring are higher than anticipated.

"It could be a big chance," Wyman said.

Donovan has said another selling point of self-insuring is the state would save an estimated $72.5 million in the first month that could help pay down the budget deficit.

That $72.5 million represents the amount the state pays monthly in negotiated health care premiums to insurance companies.

According to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, there is a 30- to 60-day lag in paying insurance claims, so by self-insuring the state would save at least one month's premium payments.

But Wyman said that money should be used to start the self-insuring reserve account.

She also suggested that the legislation require non-state employees to pay higher insurance premiums to help build that reserve fund.

Donovan said he is open to the suggestion but is concerned higher premiums could eat into the savings intended for municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses.

With the legislative session ending June 3, Donovan admits these issues need to be addressed for the bill to pass.


March 20, 2009

STUDY: 758,000 IN CONNECTICUT HURT BY BREAKS IN HEALTH COVERAGE

By DIANE LEVICK
Hartford Courant

A quarter of Connecticut's residents under 65 — 758,000 people — lacked health insurance at some time in 2007 or 2008, a roadblock to medical care and a sign that reform is urgently needed, according to a new study.

The number of uninsured, in a study that will be released today by the advocacy group Families USA, is far higher than the 326,000 census figure often cited for Connecticut, which includes 322,000 under 65.

The usual census figure only represents people who lacked coverage for an entire year, but many people are uninsured for shorter periods.

"Any way you look at it, it doesn't bode well for Connecticut," said Janet Davenport, spokeswoman for the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. "Given the unemployment figures and layoffs and economic crisis we're in, it's probably a lot worse" now than the 2007-08 study shows.

Nationally, about 86.7 million people — a third of the population under 65 — had no health insurance at least part of the time during 2007 or 2008, Families USA said. Census data showed 45.7 million were insured during all of 2007. Families USA uses census data in its calculations.

In Connecticut, more than 70 percent of the 758,000 uninsured — 533,000 residents — lacked insurance for six months or more during the two years.

"Our hope is this study makes clear why health care reform needs to happen now," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "Virtually everyone knows someone, whether it's a family member, neighbor or friend, who lacks or lost health care coverage."

The implications of even short-term lack of insurance can be dire, Pollack said. "It means that many people wind up skipping going to the doctor, or postponing filling a prescription, or not getting tests," he said.

As a result, conditions or diseases may not be diagnosed in a timely manner and get worse before they're found, he said.

Families USA reported that nearly 81 percent of the 758,000 uninsured in Connecticut were members of working families and another 6 percent were unemployed but seeking work. Some of the uninsured work for small businesses that can't afford to offer insurance, and some may work part-time and not qualify for it.

State and federal legislators predict the report will step up pressure for health care reform.

"The public policy implications of this report are enormous," U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said Thursday, calling it "one more red flag that we have to act on health care reform."

The report, DeLauro said, "provides new evidence that Americans — and Connecticut residents — are at significant risk of losing their insurance coverage, either as a result of job loss or unaffordable premiums. It shows that our health care system is on increasingly shaky ground for people who are working hard, trying to pay the bills, and cannot keep up."

Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D- Meriden, said state-level reforms need to take a "holistic" approach because people have different insurance needs. There are proposals already on the table, he said, that take a comprehensive approach and would assist the short-term uninsured as well as people who need longer-term help.


March 16, 2009

HEALTH CARE POOL: SAVING STATE DOLLARS
By Christopher G. Donovan

President Barack Obama has put health care reform at the top of the national agenda. Connecticut should, too.

In our current economic climate, an idea that merits strong consideration is the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership.

Passed by the Legislature last year but vetoed by the governor, the partnership can help save state dollars, provide relief to municipalities, small businesses and nonprofits, and expand access to high-quality, affordable health care.

There is considerable evidence that the proposed legislation would reduce the number of uninsured and reduce costs, including a preliminary analysis from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. When I traveled the state last year promoting this proposal, I was met with enthusiasm and support by municipal officials, union leaders, small business owners and nonprofit organizations. With the economic changes Connecticut has experienced in the past year, the need for this legislation has only grown.

The partnership would open the state employee health plan to municipalities, nonprofits and small employers on a completely voluntary basis, streamlining our health care system and providing financial relief to these groups. They would be able to take advantage of the increased bargaining power and reduced administrative costs associated with the state plan, as well as the comprehensive benefits that state employees receive.

Recent proposals to create health care purchasing pools have generated significant attention. David Osborne, an expert in budgeting and improving government performance who consulted for Gov. Rell, argues that because governments are such large players in the health care marketplace, they can get better care at better prices by creating large, statewide health care purchasing pools and include both public and private employers.

The major change to the current proposal is that the state employee health plan will switch from fully insured to self-insured — resulting in immediate savings to the state. Most large employers self-insure because it costs less. A self-insured plan will allow the state to realize long-term savings by directly managing the medical claims and health service utilization.

Rep. Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, is House speaker.


March 16, 2009

FORUM TO KEEP SMALL BUSINESS HEALTH CARE LOW HELD

State Representatives David McCluskey (D-West Hartford) and Russell Morin (D-Wethersfield) hosted a regional forum Monday with area small business owners to discuss business-friendly health care policies that will help local companies thrive.

The General Assembly is currently debating legislation to save small businesses thousands of dollars annually in employee health care costs. The plan would open the state employee health insurance plan to small businesses, municipal employees and non-profits.

"This is the same reason families shop at Costco or BJ's," Rep. Morin said. "We save money when we buy in bulk. This idea can be applied to health insurance for small businesses. If they were able to join the huge state employee health care pool, their costs would drop dramatically."

There are currently more than 200,000 people in the state insurance pool.

Rep. Morin said, "Health care costs are crushing small businesses. Government must lend a hand."

Reps. McCluskey and Morin met with businesses owners at Faxon Library in West Hartford.