CTNJ file photo
Senator Jonathan Harris (CTNJ file photo )

The Human Services Committee passed a bill Thursday that would delay Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed changes to the HUSKY health insurance plan for low-income families and possibly delay her Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults in the state.

In a press release Thursday afternoon Rell responded to the committee’s actions by saying she would veto the bill if it got to her desk.

Human Services Committee Chairman Rep. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said the serious questions legislator’s have about the Charter Oak Plan have largely been ignored by Rell and her administration.

Rell said the Human Services Committee is taking its eye off the ball. “I am hopeful other legislative committees will not repeat this error and let our uninsured adults down. However, if this bill reaches my desk, I will veto it.”

Under Rell’s proposal, everyone in the HUSKY program would be moved from their current healthcare provider network back to a managed care organization on July 1, 2008. The bill the Human Services Committee passed Thursday would delay that move until July 1, 2009.

Patients in the HUSKY program have been moved to three different primary care providers in the past six months because Rell decided in November to dismiss some of the Managed Care Organizations running the program and handed control of it over to the state Department of Social Services.

The bill the Human Services Committee passed separates the HUSKY program from the Charter Oak Plan. The problem is the state put both programs out to bid in the same package, so this legislation could possibly delay implementation of the Charter Oak Plan which was supposed to start July 1, 2008.

The Department of Social Services put out a background piece on the bill which says “Splitting the procurement would effectively delay Charter Oak by at least six months.” The joint proposal was put out to bid in January and the department has received letters of intent to bid from at least six insurance companies. The technical bids are due by March 28 and the cost proposals are due April 11.

Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said HUSKY has enough problems of its own and putting it out to bid with the governor’s Charter Oak Plan isn’t going to solve those problems. She said the governor’s Charter Oak Plan “should be able to stand on its own.” She said keeping the two plans together is a “recipe for disaster.”

Harris agrees. “While I have long been unsure of whether Charter Oak will work, I fully support the governor’s effort to solve a small piece of the healthcare problem. If Charter Oak is such a good plan, it should be able to stand on its own and succeed. It doesn’t need to be linked to HUSKY,” he said.

But Rell said by doing that you’re ignoring the uninsured in the state.

“Thousands of our residents continue to live without decent health care coverage and for months many have been phoning and e-mailing their support of Charter Oak. Unfortunately, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears with the Democrats on the Human Services Committee,” Rell said.

She noted that about 94 percent of all Connecticut residents do have health care and that Charter Oak is a plan specifically targeted to those who have no health care coverage. “By voting to delay implementation of Charter Oak, the committee would also be delaying health care coverage to our residents,” Rell added.

Rell did note that at least one Democrat, Rep. Christel Truglia of Stamford, voted against it. Click here to see the vote tally.

Health care advocates have said having no insurance may be better than the proposed Charter Oak Plan, which may not be as affordable as the governor would have you believe. Here’s why: DSS Commissioner Michael Starkowski has said the state has asked potential bidders to adjust the benefit levels in the plan if they don’t think they can meet the $250 per month premium within the proposal. This means there’s no guarantee the benefit levels in the RFP would remain once the insurers began offering the plan.

On a related note, the Labor Committee passed Majority Leader Chris Donovan’s pooling bill, which would allow municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses to join the state employees health insurance pool. Click here for more information about his proposal.