Christine Stuart file photo

A diverse group of advocates wrote this letter to Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Starkowski on Wednesday alleging that Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s new Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults intentionally discriminates against individuals with chronic mental and physical illness.

Holding up a copy of an Oct. 1, 2007 email from consultant Steve Schramm as evidence, activists like Jennifer Jaff, executive director of Advocates for Patients of Chronic Illness Inc., said they designed the plan to intentionally keep out bad risk, which is against the state constitution and two state statutes.

“Purposefully excluding a sizable portion of the uninsured, the chronically ill, from a state program that professes to provide coverage to the uninsured, implicates a gross constitutional violation,” the group wrote in their letter to Starkowski.

Jaff said because the state intends to subsidize the $250 monthly premium for individuals who earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, it must not discriminate against an entire class of people.

James McGaughey, the Executive Director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy, noted that state law defines the protected class of “physically disabled” individuals as including “any individual who has any chronic physical handicap, infirmity, or impairment.” 

McGaughey said that it is “not permissible, under either our state constitution or statutes, for a state agency to allocate limited state funds in a way that specifically discriminates against people with mental or physical disabilities” and that “any limits must not be designed to single these vulnerable individuals out for effective exclusion from a state program like Charter Oak.” 

The group urged DSS to remove the limits under the plan which they allege were designed to keep the “most vulnerable” from actually being able to take advantage of the plan before the bids are awarded and people start signing up July 1.

DSS spokesman David Dearborn said he thinks the advocacy group neglected to acknowledge that the Charter Oak Plan, rather than discriminating, is actually welcoming people with disabilities and chronic illness with open arms.

“The well-meaning advocates who complain about Charter Oak never seem to acknowledge a basic and critical fact—Charter Oak will have absolutely no exclusion or pre-existing medical conditions. This was a baseline requirement of the Governor and was also part of the legislature’s approval of Charter Oak,” Dearborn said. “This is a tremendous advantage for people with chronic illness. It means that every uninsured adult, regardless of his or her health condition, can get health insurance. Right now, many can’t get health insurance anywhere. Charter Oak will remedy that.”

But the plan’s critics were unconvinced.

“We need to address the problem of the chronically ill uninsured by offering them real coverage—not simply move them from the ranks of the uninsured to the ranks of the fast-growing under-insured population,” Jan VanTassel of the Conn. Legal Rights Project, said.

Dearborn said the advantage to Charter Oak for people with chronic illness and pre-existing medical conditions is that the program will not “individually rate” people for pre-existing conditions. “This means that enrollees with pre-existing conditions will pay no more than enrollees who are completely healthy,” he said.

Click here for more background on the Charter Oak/HUSKY bidding process.