Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Jonathan Harris, front, Sen. Donald Williams, back (Christine Stuart photo )

Democratic lawmakers patted themselves on the back Thursday for increasing enrollment levels, doctor reimbursement rates, and income levels for the more than 320,000 low-income children and families that participate in the HUSKY health insurance program.

“We’ve taken a great program on paper and have made it work in the real world,” Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Thursday. While he has no evidence to show that the increase in enrollment was based on the legislation passed in 2007, he pointed to a bar graph showing increased enrollment and said, “I believe it was one of the factors.”

“Right now what we have is good news,” Williams said. However, there are some child and health care advocates who believe that the successes of the current HUSKY program are at risk because Gov. M. Jodi Rell has put it out to bid with her brand new Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults.

Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Aid, was quick to warn Williams, after Thursday’s press conference, that “this program [HUSKY] is about to be destroyed.” He said the legislature’s Democratic majority should vote during next week’s special session to separate the two programs and force Rell to veto it. A similar bill died during the regular legislative session.

“They have an opportunity here to stop this slow motion train wreck,” Toubman said.

When asked whether the issue would make it onto the special session agenda, Williams firmly said, “No.” He said, “I think Speaker Amann made it very clear that the agenda is very limited.”

Department of Social Services spokesman David Dearborn said in an email earlier this week that the programs were combined into one bid, to “provide a known population of enrollees in HUSKY to compensate for the comparatively unknown Charter Oak population for purposes of actuarial analysis…allowing the successful bidders to balance the familiar risk and large size of the HUSKY enrollment with the less familiar and less predictable size of the Charter Oak enrollment.”

Earlier this week House Majority Leader Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, also addressed the issue. “We’re very concerned about the HUSKY program,” he said. “She’s tied it to the Charter Oak plan. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”

Rell has said she would veto any bill that delays implementation of her Charter Oak Health Plan because she receives calls everyday from people who need it and want to know when it’s going to start. The Department of Social Services has estimated that 8,900 to 10,000 people will enroll in the program during its first year, which is scheduled to start July 1.

As for HUSKY Democratic lawmakers said they would continue to be vigilant about how the five-year $3.5 billion contract is handled by the managed care organizations that bid on it.

Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said Thursday that “we will be watching.” He said he’s trying to come up with a way in which the committee can provide oversight of the administration, while it’s not in session.

Dearborn said the joint contract has yet to be awarded to any of the three bidders. But sources say in order to handle the more than 320,000 HUSKY enrollees all three companies that bid would need to share a piece of the contract.

Two of the three managed care organizations to bid on the contract have no provider networks in the state. Dearborn has said DSS is prepared to help HUSKY clients transition to the new HUSKY managed care organizations and has asked Anthem, which did not bid on the new five-year contract to remain in an administrative capacity to help the state out through the transition. Anthem currently serves the largest number of HUSKY patients, but has refused to bid on the new contract because it does not want to comply with Freedom of Information laws.

For more background on these issues, click here, and here, and here.