A statewide coalition of lawmakers, activists and health experts Thursday announced that health care reform will be a top priority heading into the next legislative session.
Coalition leaders at a news conference at the Capitol building said the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent election have become driving factors in reintroducing a plan for a public option health insurance program for Connecticut residents, small businesses and nonprofits.
Supporters say the program will offer people more affordable health care options.
“This pandemic has clearly shown the unreliability of the connection between health insurance and employment, with so many people losing both their job and their health insurance,” said Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.
“It has highlighted that health care is about racial justice and that unless we do something about health care, we will not be able to address racial equity in our state,” she said.
Per-person health care spending in Connecticut is among the highest in the nation, averaging about $9,859 a year among those with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The General Assembly failed to pass a comprehensive package of health care reforms in 2019 after support for the public option program fizzled out amid opposition from insurance carriers, hesitance from lawmakers and a lack of time in the legislative session.
“Health care is hard. I knew that going in. I think we all did, and nobody who watched the Affordable Care Act and the debate over that thought that this would be easy,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, co-chair of the legislature's Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
“So we weren’t in any way surprised that when we started this effort, that we didn’t quite get it over the hump in one year,” he said.
But coalition lawmakers, a majority of whom are Democrats, said they’re confident going into the next session for two main reasons: an urgency for reform created by the pandemic and an incoming wave of newly elected legislators.
“The recognition of it [public option] is, I think, growing,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney. “And everyone who does not have stable health insurance now is living in fear.”
In a public option program, the state government would have a direct hand in designing policies and premiums. Residents would then purchase plans through private insurance carriers that agree to participate.
Lawmakers say they’re collecting data and input as they draft legislation, which won’t be revealed until February. But they are looking to model a public option program off the health plan currently offered to state employees.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said that means negotiating directly with hospitals and provider groups.
“We have always hid behind our third-party administrators, the insurance companies that we contract with, to do that work,” he said. “So, we’ve stepped out and we’re cutting better deals with them directly. We’re leading with quality, we’re holding them to very high standards.”
Legislation will likely include other health care reform components. Lawmakers say they’re again considering a state-based reinsurance program -- which would use state and federal dollars to help insurers pay some of the highest patient claims in order to keep premium prices low -- among other things.