Connecticut Lawmakers Unveil A Public Option Health Plan | Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Lawmakers Unveil A Public Option Health Plan

Mar 11, 2019

State lawmakers revealed details Thursday on how Connecticut could create and run its own public option health care plan, which would compete with private insurers.

Sponsors of the public option legislation said it’s the best way to offer residents a more affordable option for coverage that’s tailored specifically to the state’s needs while opponents doubt the plan’s potential.

“We can increase the competition that exists in the private insurance market and we can work with our friends in the insurance industry...to deliver on the promise of better health care and affordable health care for the people of Connecticut,” said Sen. Sean Scanlon, D-Branford, Guilford.

State lawmakers join a growing number of politicians nationally who are proposing new ways to expand health care coverage and drive down costs.

A public option plan is different than Medicare-for-all and a single-payer program in that it would be overseen by the state Comptroller’s Office and sustained through premium payments, not taxpayer dollars, state officials said.

On the fiscal cost, bill co-sponsor Sen. Matt Lesser said it would take under a million dollars to jump-start the program.

The new legislation would use as a model the health plan currently offered to state employees. It would target two consumer groups: small businesses and non-profits, and people who do not get coverage through their employers.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said the state’s public option benefit plans may be more appealing than plans offered on the Connecticut health exchange because, “it would be our goal to have no high deductible plans in the mix.”

Members of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut offered people buttons and signs in support of a proposal to create a state-run public option health care plan. A bill was introduced in a state committee Thurs., March 8.
Credit Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

The state would not provide the health care directly, Lembo said, but it would take bids from vendors or insurance companies who want to provide the coverage and care under the public option plan.

But Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said creating plans with lower premiums and deductibles doesn’t solve the root problem of rising health care costs.

“I just don’t see a way that this actually drives down costs. The best it can do is shift costs,” he said during a public hearing Thursday. “If we can’t find a way to reduce the cost of care, I think beyond that, we’re just doing a lot of cost shifting, which has gotten us where we are.”

Jon Kingsdale, a health policy expert representing Connecticut Association of Health Plans Thursday, said in the last 40 years, he’s seen a lot of similar health reform ideas and initiatives “fail to be effective.”

“Policy makers in every state and at the federal level as well have been promising rate relief to small employers for decades now. I’ve yet to see it happen,” he said. “The focus has to be, if you want to be effective, on the prices paid by health plans and individuals to providers--drug companies, hospitals, physicians--that I don’t see in this legislation.”

But supporters like Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said a public option is still the best way to go as the state can help negotiate health care prices and discounts on behalf of residents in addition more affordable plans.

“We do know that consumers are feeling like there are not enough affordable quality products on the market, even in the health insurance exchange, and the state is using its leverage, its purchasing power to extend those benefits to more people in our state.”