Christine Stuart file photo

(Updated 4:02 p.m.)Despite a more than $6 billion state budget deficit, health care advocates believe this could be the year that Connecticut reforms its health care system.

At 9 a.m. today the Universal Health Care Foundation unveiled it’s SustiNet proposal, which creates a massive health insurance pool by combining the pool of state employees and retirees with people now covered under state assistance programs.

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said the plan uses the purchasing power of the state to create a pool and is similar to plans being discussed at the federal level.

“It’s a public plan designed to compete in private marketplace,” Figueroa said during a conference call this afternoon.

The plan, if passed by the legislature, will begin in 2011 and will be rolled out over five years.

If implemented over its five-year timeline, SustiNet would save households and businesses a combined total of $1.75 billion in 2014, Figueroa said. It also assumes what he called a “conservative” $800 million in federal Medicaid funds.

He said the upfront costs for the first two years of the plan are minimal although he was unable to put a number on it. Two years ago an Office of Fiscal Analysis report on the cost of the organization’s single-payer type plan, ultimately killed the proposal.

Figueroa said this plan is different than the one proposed two years ago in that it addresses the delivery of health care by making it more efficient, instead of simply dealing with the financing of the plan.

The new plan is designed to offer a health care coverage option, stimulate competition and address the root cause of the health system’s problems, foundation officials said.

Keith Stover, a lobbyist with Robinson and Cole who represents insurance companies, said every proposal that gets put on the table creates an opportunity to have a conversation about this critical issue. He said it’s the insurance industry’s hope “we’re going to get somewhere this year.” However, he said the industry won’t support a plan that includes “the state now getting into the business and competing with the insurance industry.”

“At some point we have to transition from the philosophical to the practical,” Stover said Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building.

How is it different than the Massachusetts plan?

Unlike Massachusetts there are no individual mandates to purchase insurance in the foundation’s proposal. However, individuals will be signed up for the plan if they show up at the emergency room without health insurance, Figueroa said.

According to the plan, employers offering coverage are encouraged to continue to do so by two factors. First, even if federal health care reform is enacted, powerful federal tax incentives are likely to remain in place favoring employer payment of health insurance premiums. Second, medium-sized and large employers that do not cover their workers are required by SustiNet to make modest “shared responsibility” payments to help cover the cost of their employees’ health care. This is expected to lessen the extent to which firms shed costs by dropping coverage.

More than 500 people from across the state are expected to gather tonight at Union Station in Hartford to hear the details of a sweeping new plan.