Conn. Democrats Unveil New ‘Public Option’ Plan In Final Session Days, Drawing Republican Ire | Connecticut Public Radio
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Conn. Democrats Unveil New ‘Public Option’ Plan In Final Session Days, Drawing Republican Ire

May 23, 2019

Democratic lawmakers are pushing a new public option health care proposal, angering Republican colleagues so close to the end of the legislative session.

Supporters are calling the new plan Connecticut Option — it’ll be a program overseen by the state and offered through insurance companies or a network created by the state.

Legislators unveiled details of the new plan Thursday with backing from Gov. Ned Lamont, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and other government officials who said this is how the state will bring down high costs of health care.

“Many of us were standing in this room a decade ago, and I’d like to say things since that time have gotten better, but frankly, they have not,” Lembo said. “Things are worse. So, here we are.”

Sen. Matt Lesser said the program will help individuals and small businesses save 20 percent in premiums and offer more financial assistance to low- and middle-income residents who struggle to afford insurance coverage.

Connecticut Option plans will compete with private insurers. Lawmakers hope that drives market competition and leads to cheaper plans for residents.

It will cost about $1 million to get the program up and running by 2022, Lesser said. The program will be paid for in several ways, and one is by charging pharmaceutical manufacturers a tax on opioid prescriptions.

Lawmakers said they also intend to restore the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which means Connecticut residents who can afford insurance, but do not enroll in plans, will have to pay a penalty fee. That money will go toward the program as well.

Under the proposed plan, the state aims to reduce drug costs by looking outside the United States. Lawmakers said the state would join Vermont, Florida and Colorado in petitioning the federal government for permission to import prescription drugs from Canada at reduced prices.

Supporters of Connecticut Option say they’ve spent a lot of time talking about these plans with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, but one group says they’ve been left out of the loop — legislative Republicans.

“Not once, not once have the Republicans even known this has been going on or a bill this magnitude was being discussed,” said Sen. Len Fasano at the Capitol building Thursday.

Fasano said he and others found out about the new public option bill Wednesday night and have yet to see a copy of the bill.

“How do you have a press conference about one of the most significant changes to health care — from an insurance mandate to prescription drugs to private insurance — without ever having, at least, any conversation with the minority party of this building?” he said.

Sen. Kevin Kelly said the process was done behind people’s backs instead of earlier when there could have been public hearings and debate over the proposal.

“We recognize that the cost of health care premiums have gone up . . .  but this is not the way to fix it,” he said.

Fasano said legislators have debated a public option bill earlier this year, but “this bill has changed dramatically from the public option to a very broad-based bill.”

Connecticut Option has garnered support from groups like the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, but some business and law experts expressed skepticism on if the plan would succeed in reducing health care costs to the extent promised.

Legislators have less than two weeks to consider this bill proposal and others before the regular session ends.