The state Senate debated Majority Leader Chris Donovan’s Connecticut Health Care Partnership bill that would allow municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses to join the state employees health insurance plan into the early morning hours Wednesday.

The bill finally passed 22 to 12 along a mostly party line vote around 2 a.m.

Republicans tried to introduce their budget amendment twice to the bill, but were unsuccessful. Instead they continued with a flurry of amendments to the underlying bill, which the Governor’s Budget Secretary has said could cost the state $54 million in health care savings in fiscal year 2009.

Proponents of the bill said the bill would lower health care costs for cities and towns, while opponents said two out of the three health insurance companies that administer the plans for the state have said they would re-rate their bids if the state forced them to expand their pools to include more people and possibly more risk.

“Anthem believes that if this legislation passes, the underlying assumptions used to develop the pricing of the State health insurance plans during the most recent RFP process would be negatively impacted,” Anthem’s President David Fusco said in an April 17 letter to the state.

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said city’s like Danbury could save $2.8 million by voluntarily joining the state employees pool.

Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, said that’s not what his local officials have told him. “They said it would actually cost Danbury millions and millions of dollars a year,” he said.

Cappiello used the opening by Prague as an opportunity to amend the Republican budget to the bill. “With 24 hours to go, we in this body can make an attempt to do something to the state budget,” Cappiello said.

Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele ruled Cappiello’s budget amendment germane to the underlying pooling bill, but the Democratic majority was able to overturn his decision on both Republican budget amendments.

Standing outside the Senate chamber, Phil Sherwood, a New Britain alderman and lobbyist for Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said Cappiello shouldn’t even be voting on this bill because his wife works for Anthem, one of the insurance companies that said it would have to re-rate its bids if the legislature passed this bill.

Cappiello said he received a letter from the Office of State Ethics saying there was no conflict of interest because the bill would not directly benefit his wife. And “I argued the merit of the budget amendments, not the underlying bill,” he said.

Sherwood, a proponent of the bill, said it would save the city of New Britain $900,000.

“This is really our only chance in this year of belt-tightening to provide some financial relief to cities and towns,” Donovan said in a press release. “We believe that in many cases, participation in the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership will yield millions of dollars in savings.  The governor should sign this bill.”