New Haven Mayor John DeStefano would have warned the legislature’s Public Health Committee that if it fails to achieve universal health care coverage by the end of the session it won’t be for lack of resources, ideas, or political support—it will be “from a failure of vision.” But DeStefano, the man who staked his campaign for governor on universal coverage, didn’t get a chance to testify Wednesday. He was first in line to speak but legislators and state officials who are given precedence over members of the public during these hearings spoke for more than two hours and DeStefano had to get back to the Elm City.DeStefano submitted written testimony which included a copy of the Connecticut CAN! plan unveiled during the campaign. The plan calls for the creation of a health care consortium from which small businesses, families and individuals can purchase health insurance coverage. The larger pool of people, the smaller the risk is for insurance companies, he said. The smaller risk means lower costs for consumers.
How would he pay for it?Despite the Appeals Court ruling in Maryland, DeStefano said he still thinks revision of the corporate income tax structure is the best way to go. Earlier this month an Appeals Court in Maryland found a proposal similar to DeStefano’s corporate tax revision violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The situation hasn’t been much better in other states. Massachusetts and Vermont 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,” Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. A plan offered by Senate Democrats seeks to set up a Medicare-type-system where there is still a role for private insurance companies. But the Democrats plan falls short of universal coverage. In the first year it expands the pool of Medicaid recipients by about 140,000 people and leaves an estimated 260,000 sans insurance. Williams said the proposal also calls for the creation of a committee to study the obstacles faced in other states. In the second year, the committee would make recommendations, if the plan was approved by the legislature. Williams said the obstacles of a “streamlined Medicare-type-system” will be federal waivers and ERISA. To expand the Medicaid system from 300 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty rate in the first year of the plan will not require a federal waiver. But Gov. M. Jodi Rell warned last week that the $250 million in new Medicaid benefits will have to be paid out by the state before the feds reimburse the state. Williams said the Office of Fiscal Analysis is not sure if that’s accurate. He said his office was still waiting to hear. New Haven Legal Aid Attorney Sheldon Toubman said that increases in provider rates to the Managed Care Organizations that administer HUSKY (the state Medicaid program for low-income families), is welcomed if it increases access. However the state needs to guarantee the rate increases are going directly to providers and not being used on administrative costs. Toubman said rate increases may not increase access if the MCO and HMO’s create obstacles for providers who have to hire an administrator just to get the reimbursement from the HMO or MCO.These policy ideas were only part of Wednesday’s discussion. The other part was people. Hundreds of people showed up in Hartford Wednesday ready to share their own stories about the health care system. “People and small businesses, the insured and uninsured, are struggling to survive and stay healthy every day in the current health care system,” Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation said Wednesday. “Their stories are a reminder to our elected leaders that tinkering around the edges won’t work. Comprehensive sustainable change for the better is possible in Connecticut.” Figueroa applauded Williams’ plan, but said that to build on the public momentum, it is imperative that the panel reports its findings by May 1, before the end of the session. Click here to read the stories of the uninsured and underinsured.