The Human Services Committee made some changes to a bill initially intended to delay Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults.

The new language in
HB 5617, which passed along party lines Tuesday, seeks to find common ground between the Democratic majority and Rell, a Republican. Instead of delaying implementation of the Charter Oak Plan, it agrees to the July 1, 2008 start date, and makes other changes advocates have been calling for since the details of the plan were unveiled in December.

Some of those changes include the elimination of the six-month period a person would have to wait, without insurance, before they were able to receive coverage under the plan and adds mental health parity to the list of things that would have to be covered under the $250 per month premium.

Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, said the RFP for the Charter Oak Plan is already out to bid. Bids are expected back March 28. He said passing the bill is “just a waste of time.” He compared it to building a house, “if you keep making changes, it never gets built.”

Human Services Co-Chairman, Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, countered that if you build a house without support beams it’s going to fall down. Harris said the proposed changes will make the house more inhabitable at the end.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he likes the mental health parity provision and the right to an external appeal, however, “it’s clear the governor feels very strongly about this bill.” He said just like the bill passed last week by the committee, this bill could also be headed for a veto. He said he’d like to see the chairs of the committee work something out with the governor.

Rich Harris, spokesman for Rell, said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, that, “This version is certainly much improved from the original language in the bill, which would have delayed Charter Oak until 2009.”

However, he said there are some concerns about the impact of the mental health parity language and the six-month waiting period. He said it’s unknown what the fiscal impact of those provisions may be.

Human Services Co-Chairman, Rep. Peter Villano, D-Hamden, said he doesn’t know how much more common ground he can give the governor when it comes to Charter Oak.  He said the committee didn’t touch the $250 premium, mandate benefits or deductibles, and didn’t delay implementation an entire year. “We gave them everything else,” he said referring to the changes made in the bill.

Sen. Harris said he doesn’t think working these provisions into agreements with the bidders will be overly complicated. He said the fiscal impact of mandating mental health parity in Vermont was 19 cents per member, per month. He said mental health parity helps save everyone money down the road because it avoids higher medical costs for chronic conditions that develop when mental health issues are ignored.

The bill will now go to the Appropriations Committee for debate.