Christine Stuart photo

In January the Universal Health Care Foundation will unveil its legislative proposal to address the health care crisis in the state, Foundation President Juan Figueroa, said Wednesday.

While he wouldn’t reveal any specific details of the proposal, Figueroa did say it will include four elements.

First it will make sure everyone has a “medical home,” which he described as the 21st version of a family doctor. Second it will offer health care choices to individuals and businesses. Third it will “give us more for our money,” and lastly it “will be piece of mind,” because it will stay with people regardless of their employment status, he said.

With the state running a $6 billion deficit in the coming years many people may say this is not the time to propose comprehensive health care reform, but Figueroa says “we can’t afford not to do it.” He said with more people losing their jobs and benefits, it’s likely more of them will be using the emergency room for care and with that taxpayers will have to pay a large sum of money to the hospitals in uncompensated care funds.

Despite the economic reasons, Figueroa said both at the national level and the state level you see more “uncommon allies” at the table recognizing something needs to be done, which makes him optimistic that this is the year Connecticut will reform its health care system.

Two of those uncommon allies were featured Wednesday morning as part of the organization’s breakfast seminar at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville.

Christine Stuart photo

Michael Critelli, executive chairman of Pitney Bowes Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Stamford and Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, one of the state’s largest unions, didn’t disagree on much when it came to health care reform.

What they did disagree on was “where the role of government starts,” Critelli said. He said if government is going to have a role in this, then it needs to be given to a quasi-public, independent agency to handle. Otherwise, it will continue to take a back seat to balancing the budget and government needs to understand that a value-based health care plan will save it money down the road, he said. “It’s a multi-year investment.”

Luciano, who still favors a single-payer form of health insurance, said the two don’t disagree on much and “we’re together because of this crisis.”

When asked what it will take to get this to happen, both Critelli and Luciano said “leadership.” Critelli said good leadership will put together a plan and show how all these issues are interrelated.

“We couldn’t do it when we had the money, how are we going o do it when we don’t have the money? We have to,” Luciano said. Critelli added that there are a lot of creative ways to start to tackle the problem and save money both in the short-term and the long-term.

Critelli, whose company is about 80 percent self-insured, said in order to analyze the health care crisis you have to go back to the root cause: preventable chronic illnesses. He said you have to take the cost out of those out on the front end. To that end, he said, Pitney Bowes has a gym on site making it easier for their employees to exercise. He said it also sells healthy food in the cafeteria for less money than the less-healthy selections.

“The health insurance structure is flawed,” he said. It’s designed to get a lot of people into the system, but it doesn’t get them involved in healthy behavior.

Christine Stuart photo

Both Luciano and Critelli also agreed the system needs to start rewarding primary care physicians instead of specialists. Critelli said the Medicaid and Medicare system reward doctors by reimbursing them for the complexity of the procedure and the number of procedures they do, not the outcome of the procedure.

Luciano said medical students are less inclined to go into the primary care field because it takes them longer to pay back their student loans.

Click here to read our previous report about value-based health care reform.

Reforming Connecticut’s health care system was first raised during the 2006 legislative session shortly after the race for governor between New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Several proposals that year were thwarted by a fiscal note from the Office of Fiscal Analysis which said it would cost billions of dollars for the state to implement a single-payer type program. That same year the General Assembly did agree to increase reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals accepting Medicaid patients, but many opponents said the state couldn’t afford to do anything more.