Christine Stuart photo

House Democrats on Wednesday offered up an old idea that received bipartisan support during the regular legislative session, but failed to pass. 

The Democratic majority isn’t calling for a fourth special session, rather, it’s asking Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to use her executive powers to help 37,379 low-income, Medicare-eligible senior citizens get their medications cheaper.

State Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, who has been credited with the original idea and also happens to be in the midst of a heated re-election campaign, said that if the state takes a $3 million loss in federal Medicaid revenue this year, it can help put $47 million back in the hands of seniors and disabled individuals.

Schofield said seniors currently participating in the ConnPace program could save more than $1,000 a year on Medicare premiums and co-pays in her “ConnPace Plus” proposal.

Under the new program seniors could get their drugs for as much as $5.60 for a brand name and $2.25 for a generic, instead of the $16.25 drug co-payment they currently pay in the ConnPace program.

“It’s urgent we bring this substantial relief to lower and middle income seniors,” Schofield said Wednesday, describing the program as an economic stimulus package for seniors and the disabled.

Schofield said she wrote Rell on Aug. 22 in an attempt to get the governor to open up the call of last month’s special session to include the changes to the ConnPace program. She said this is when Rell’s administration and legislators agreed the program could be implemented without legislation.

Schofield said the Department of Social Services could implement the bill by adopting an emergency regulation and submitting a state plan change to the federal Medicaid administration.

Chris Cooper, the governor’s spokesman, said Wednesday that Rell “indicated her support of the concept, but the legislature did not enact it or appropriate funds for it.”

“With regard to what they are calling for today, Governor Rell has asked DSS and OPM to review their proposal and their cost estimates,” Cooper said.

If it had strong bipartisan support, then why didn’t it pass during the legislative session?

Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said during the session there’s a lot of good ideas that don’t make it to the final hour. He said the proposal was not partisan. In fact, the Republicans even included it in their own budget proposal.

“No one around here thinks it’s a bad idea,” State Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said.

Amann said if the legislature re-opened the budget or the call for special session “it would not have been just this issue” that would have come up. He said once “you open up that can of worms, they go all over the place”—meaning it would have been difficult to avoid a debate on the Republicans’ alternative budget proposal that included an early retirement package for state employees.

Meanwhile, Schofield’s opponent in the upcoming election questioned the timing of Wednesday’s press conference.

Republican Robert Heagney, who held Schofield’s seat for eight years and is attempting to take it back this November, was less kind with his assessment.

“Where was the legislative leadership to get this passed?” Heagney asked, adding that the lack of leadership within the Democratic party is “unbelievable,” and that today’s event—during which lawmakers credited Schofield with coming up with the idea—“seems totally disingenuous.”

Two years ago Heagney lost to Schofield by about 180 votes. He said most of the vote difference was due to the cross-endorsement of Schofield by the Working Families Party. This year Schofield did not receive the Working Families Party endorsement, so her name will not be appearing on two lines.

Deborah Noble, a Working Families member, received her party’s endorsement to run against both Schofield and Heagney for the 16th House District seat.

State Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said he didn’t think the press conference was held Wednesday to benefit Schofield’s re-election campaign.

“Linda has been pushing for this since the day she got on the Human Services Committee,” Harris said. He added that this is an old idea that Schofield’s been pushing for the past two years.