Christine Stuart photo

Last year’s attempt to get municipal employees into the same health insurance pool as state employees died on the House calendar, but Majority Leader Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, has a plan to make it a reality next year.

At a press conference Thursday he said taxpayers could save millions, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars by creating a larger pool of individuals who need insurance. He said then you take the idea of pooling public employees and expand it to the general public allowing private businesses to get into the plan.

He said it’s a way to prove to everyone universal health care works. Click here for Fletcher Fischer’s video of the press conference.

But the idea of pooling wasn’t able to pass last year, so what makes this year any different?

Donovan said last year they forgot to go around and get the input of local officials. So starting this week, Donovan said he’s going to start visiting each city and town in the state to talk with local officials and solicit information about their health care costs and find out if the state plan would save them money. Last year, “municipal officials were hesitant to trust us,” Donovan said.

An Office of Legislative Research there are already 26 states in the nation that combine both their local and state employees in one insurance pool. The same report shows mid-sized towns like East Hartford could save $1.14 million and large cities like New Haven could save $8.6 million in insurance costs, if they were able to buy into the state employee insurance pool.

First Selectwoman Joyce Okonuk, a Democrat from Lebanon, said Thursday that over the past five years her small town health insurance costs have risen 12 percent. She said the increase has prohibited the town from hiring more staff. She said she’s very excited about the possibility of pooling.

AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano, who represents municipal and state employees, said the union is on board with pooling because it puts the state one-step closer to a single-payer form of universal health care.

Universal Health Care Foundation President Juan Figueroa, said in a statement released Thursday afternoon, that “Pooling is also among a number of approaches that have the potential to pave the way for universal health care. We believe pooling could be an effective reform measure as part of an overall framework that addresses quality and access as well as cost.”

Eric George, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said that’s why pooling is, so dangerous. “It’s a short bridge to single-payer,” he said. Click here to read about CBIA’s position on the bill, as it was under discussion last year.

This year supporters of the idea are more optimistic about its chances of passing.

On Nov. 7, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman released a request for proposal for a program that would group municipal across the state into a pool that would purchase health insurance at discounted rates. Wyman’s plan would be on a voluntary basis and would not combine municipal and state employees in one large pool, but would simply create a larger pool for all municipal employees.

Read more aboutWyman’s RFP, which is expected back in late December.