Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Jonathan Harris, Rep. Peter Villano, and Sen. Donald Williams (Christine Stuart photo )

Minutes after a press conference Thursday where Democratic lawmakers urged Gov. M. Jodi Rell to postpone the transition of 250,000 low income children and families to a new insurance plan, she heeded their call and announced plans to delay the transition.

For months advocates have argued that the two new insurance companies, Aetna Better Health and AmeriChoice, haven’t signed up enough doctors and hospitals to adequately serve the state’s HUSKY population.

In this letterto Social Services Commissioner Michael Starkowski Rell wrote, “with the enrollment in the program increasing by more than 8,000 in the past five months alone, we intend—as we always have—to ensure the enrollees have sufficient access to medical care.”

Rell said she would extend the transition period two months from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1, 2009.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and advocates, who said they were considering a lawsuit against Rell, said they are pleased with her decision to delay the transition.

“I commend Governor Rell for realizing that it is necessary to put the brakes on the forced transition of people into insufficient networks of health care providers,” Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said Thursday afternoon in a statement. “This delay will protect people, and will give us time to have meaningful discussions on the future of HUSKY and the Charter Oak Health Plan.”

On Thursday morning Harris explained how absurd it would be to move HUSKY patients into an inadequate network.

He said in New Haven where the largest HUSKY population resides, AmeriChoice has no pediatricians. Aetna has one at least on paper, but when calls were made to that office people were told that they haven’t fully committed yet, he said.

“So you might have one for the total population of the city of New Haven, or you might have none,” Harris said.

On Wednesday, State Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo, in cooperation with the State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, said they were seriously considering legal action against Rell’s administration for forcing HUSKY patients to enroll in an inadequate network of doctors and hospitals.

Letters informing the state’s HUSKY clients that they needed to switch insurance companies before Dec. 1 were expected to go out Friday, however, that date will now be moved to Feb. 1, 2009.

Harris said he hopes this will open up a dialogue with Rell over the issue of separating the HUSKY program from the governor’s state-subsidized Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults.

As a way to entice insurance companies into bidding on her new Charter Oak Health Plan, Rell linked it to bids for the $3.5 billion HUSKY contract. Harris and health care advocates have expressed concern over the two programs being linked together from the start. 

“I will not allow either program to be jeopardized and I am confident that both will continue to succeed,” Rell said in a written statement that accompanied her letter to Starkowski. “HUSKY enrollment is up. Charter Oak enrollment is up. The number of participating hospitals and the number of participating physicians is up. And growing.”

Medical professionals have said they’re hesitant to sign up to accept HUSKY patients because of uncertainty regarding reimbursement rates for the Charter Oak Health Plan, which isn’t like private insurance that covers 100 percent of a doctor’s costs. The reimbursement rates are expected to be more along the lines of Medicaid reimbursement rates, which may cover about 75 percent of a doctor’s costs.

“Fewer doctors and health care providers want to participate in the Charter Oak program, compared to the system that we have had to provide quality healthcare for children under HUSKY,” Sen. Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Thursday morning. “And the terrible unintended consequence here, if this change in the network goes forward, is that far fewer children will be seen, far fewer children will have their health care needs met.”

“The wisdom is very, very questionable about taking some of our most vulnerable children and placing them involuntarily in substantially inferior plans,” Blumenthal said. “This rush to roll out must stop.”