Senate Democrats unveiled their $450 million universal health care plan that they said would cover an additional 140,000 of the state’s uninsured by increasing the income levels for those who qualify for Medicaid, however, it means an estimated 260,000 residents would still be without health insurance.“We still need to work on this,” Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Thursday. He said that’s why his caucus proposed creating a panel to examine the policy alternatives for a plan that would cover everyone.
An estimated 40 percent of the uninsured are between the ages of 19 and 34 years old. Williams said some of them would be picked up under the proposed increase in age for those who already qualify for the Husky program. The proposal increases the age of dependent children to 26. Currently if you are enrolled in school you receive coverage until age 23 and if you’re not its age 19. Williams said they will also increase the income eligibility limits for Husky from 150 percent of the poverty level to 185 percent of the poverty level. For a family of two that increases the income limit from $19,800 to $24,420. Husky, is the Medicaid program for low-income families with children. The income levels for those on the State Administered General Assistance program that covers childless adults would also increase from $5,880 to $9,800. Martha Kelly, who is currently covered under SAGA said, that does nothing for her situation. She said while the increase in incomes levels is good, it’s not enough to eliminate the disparity created by the system. She said the system is set up to discriminate against adults without children. As soon as Kelly finds work she won’t qualify for the insurance and will have to go to the emergency room or a community health care center if she gets sick. Kelly is not alone. Research by the Universal Health Care Foundation found 80 percent of Connecticut residents without insurance are employed. How does this plan help employers deal with rising health care premiums?Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said the state will pick up the insurance for 140,000 more people, which will help relieve the cost employers are currently paying for some of those people. But if you’re Wal-Mart you’ve already shifted that burden to taxpayers by not offering employees an affordable private health insurance plan. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano highlighted the Wal-Mart dilemma during his campaign for governor. DeStefano’s plan would force major employers to offer a minimally acceptable health care plan for their workers or sacrifice all state tax breaks. If they do offer an acceptable health care plan, they would be eligible for a 50 percent cut in their corporate income tax rate, from 7.5 percent to 3.75. But earlier this month an Appeals Court in Maryland, a state that proposed a similar plan to DeStefano’s, found it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. In Massachusetts and Vermont they passed laws requiring all residents to have health care. Those who can’t afford the premiums will be able to pay an annual sum to a government pool, but this system has proven to be too expensive. “Tinkering with the system is not going to be effective,” Williams said. He said this plan seeks to set up a Medicare-type-system where there is still a role for private insurance companies. In addition to lowering income levels for Medicaid recipients and increasing reimbursement rates for doctors, Williams said the state will increase its efforts to collect data, institute disease management programs, strengthen school-based health centers, and require employers to allow health insurance premiums be deducted pre-tax. How would the state pay for it?Williams said there is already enough money in the system to pay for at least half these changes. He said the state should be able to obtain an additional $250 million from the federal government for the increases in Medicaid. And yes this can be done without a federal waiver, he said. As for the rest its just a matter of shifting some of the costs already in the system. Dr. Joseph Klimek, Vice-President of Medical Affairs at Hartford Hospital said while they treat all their patients the same, “reimbursement rates for some patients are lower than others.” He said he was in favor of higher reimbursements. He said he also like the idea of creating a data storage system to help medical professionals determine best practices and quality outcomes. The press conference was attended by at least a dozen Senate Democrats in support of the legislation, but in order to implement it they will need the help of the House Democrats. Do members of the House and Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, support this plan?Williams said he was encouraged by freshman legislators who introduced the idea of a health care trust fund earlier this week and the “groundswell” of public support for increased health care coverage. Amann has guaranteed that the legislature will pass a plan to cover all uninsured children in Connecticut, 66 percent of whom are Latino, but is less optimistic about a universal health care plan.Amann has said he doesn’t want to deliver a half-baked universal plan and it looks like Williams will join him. Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, applauded the plan Thursday. He said the proposed health care panel has the potential to streamline the existing health care system and ensure health care coverage for all residents. Figueroa urged Williams to move forward with all deliberate speed. To build on the public momentum, it is imperative that the panel reports its findings by May 1, before the end of the session, he said.