Sen. Handley pictured. Christine Stuart photo
More than 100 residents traveled from communities across the state last week to urge legislators to take bold action to address their health care concerns, but it became clear Monday that they may not have been listening. A bipartisan group of legislators from the Public Health Committee said progress had been made a handful of bills, but none of them would immediately help decrease the number of uninsured in the state. Among the legislation it would advance includes chronic disease management, telemedicine, and electronic health information technology. Their plans differ when it comes to improved access to quality health care.
Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said the legislature tends to create winners and losers. “We need to understand everybody is part of the problem and part of the solution.” He said he wants to make sure the legislature has the “courage to move forward on its healthy kids” initiative. Both parties seem to be on board with reducing the excess paperwork that drives up administrative costs for doctors through prevention and chronic disease management programs.“If we are going to successfully bring thousands of residents currently lacking coverage into our healthcare system, cost containment is going to be key and the Public Health Committee is on the right track,” Amann said. Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, who proposed increasing the number of those covered under the state Medicaid program, was detained and unable to attend the press conference so Senator Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, spoke in his absence. “We recognize how wide based the cry for help is and we’re all going to work together,” to make sure the state has an accessible and quality health care system, Handley said. The show of bipartisanship seemed less bold than the plan the state will need to adopt to solve the health care crisis. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are still far apart when it comes to how much the state is willing to spend on the health care crisis, which means if there’s a compromise fewer uninsured will receive insurance in the end. House Republicans proposed spending a $100 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to encourage doctor’s to accept low-income patients who are too often left with the emergency room as their only option to receive primary care. Senate Democrats have proposed spending $250 million to boost Medicaid rates. In addition they want to increase enrollment by another 140,000 residents at a cost of $250 million, which Williams has said would be paid for by the federal government and not the state. House Republicans are also pushing for a $30 million in tax breaks that would allow individuals to deduct their insurance premium from their state income tax, while small businesses that don’t offer health insurance would receive tax credits as an incentive. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said last week that lawmakers will have to partner with the business community if they’re going to find a plan that works. DeStefano’s plan called for the creation of a health care consortium from which small businesses, families and individuals would purchase health insurance coverage. How would he pay for it? Restructuring the corporate income tax. 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.