After Maryland recently passed a so-called “pay or play” law (which forces large corporations like Wal-Mart to reimburse the state because so many of its workers cannot afford company insurance and must resort to Medicaid), labor and health care activists hoped they could persuade Connecticut legislators to approve something similar this year.Republicans and business advocates vehemently oppose the concept. Now it appears Senate President Donald Williams (D-Danielson) doesn’t think it’s such a great idea, either. Senate President Donald Williams (center), flanked by Majority Leader Martin Looney (right) and Commerce Committee co-chair Gary LeBeau (left).
Reporters asked Williams about pay or play at a news conference today.“Quite frankly we’re looking at other options,” Williams said. “What was floated last year did not go anywhere. What we would like to see are some other options that would increase access and that could ideally moderate or even lower cost.“Health care costs are an issue that cuts across political camps, Williams continued, from advocates for people with no health insurance to employers suffering from higher costs. So is pay or play dead, as far as Williams is concerned?“Pay or play is an option that gets traction in the absence of other options,” Williams said. “Pay or play was dead last year. That’s a fact. It came out and it did not pass. It did not come to a vote in either the House or the Senate. So in the absence of other ideas, like last year, [pay or play] gets traction. What we want to see this year is something that can pass, something that can increase access and moderate cost.“Williams did not provide any specific ideas, however.Connecticut Business and Industry Association president John Rathgeber and Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca (R-Woodbury) each spoke vehemently against pay or play in recent days, calling it costly and hostile to business. But Williams’s statement is far more significant. If a Democratic legislative leader like Williams opposes pay or play- an idea which emanates from his party’s base constituencies- that law will be next to impossible to pass.Connecticut Working Families Party director Jon Green said his organization’s focus will remain on forcing a company with billions in profits to provide health insurance to its employees that costs less than $351 every two weeks. “It’s a question of which side are you on?” Green said. “Are you on the side of a huge profitable corporation that is willing to let it’s employees go blind because they cannot afford medication for their glaucoma, or are you on the side of the thousands of low wage employees whose lives can be made a little more secure and healthy?” Activists are trying to arrange a meeting with Williams, Green said, adding that his group will soon announce this year’s proposal, which will contain some differences compared to previous versions. Green declined to provide those details today.