Christine Stuart file photo

From small business owners to medical professionals it was clear Monday afternoon that the Universal Health Care Foundation’s Sustinet proposal has garnered widespread support. But like any proposal it also had its critics.

Proponents say Sustinet improves the delivery of health care and gives all state residents access to affordable health care by using the purchasing power of a massive health insurance pool. Critics of the plan say the state and employers won’t be able to afford it, while a handful are upset by language regarding medical malpractice claims.

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said critics are trying to spread misinformation based on their own self interests.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which said there are components of the Sustinet proposal it supports—such as the concept of a “medical home” and the use of electronic medical records—doesn’t support the idea of folding all employers into one self insured state pool.

In his written testimony to the legislature, CBIA associate counsel Eric George said enrolling everyone into one pool moves the state much closer “towards establishing a completely government-run health care system.”

Also, forcing employers to pay for this new health care system through vouchers or a health care tax “couldn’t come at a worse time, given the dire state of our economy and our businesses,” George said. 

Figueroa said some of CBIA’s concerns are exaggerated because they’re in the business of selling insurance.

A statement from the Universal Health Care Foundation Monday afternoon says CBIA’s “self-interest as part of the insurance industry conglomerate should not interfere with an open factual discussion. More than 60 percent of the group’s funding is derived through selling insurance products. Hyperbole and scare tactics have no place at this critical juncture in our state’s economy and decision-making process.”

Robert Genuario, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget secretary, warned the three legislative committees hearing the health care proposals Monday that they should be cautious about the Sustinet proposal because it will cost $950 million in 2014.

“I caution you about being less cautious about expenditures because they occur in the out years,” Genuario said.

Frances Padilla, vice president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said that half of the $950 million is an increase in reimbursement rates to doctors and the other half is subsidies for individuals at 300 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level who don’t qualify for public assistance, such as Medicaid, but still need help with their premiums.

She said these expenditures actually help drive down the costs of commercial health insurance. In 2011, if nothing is done, the health care system will cost between $15 and $23 billion, she said. By increasing the reimbursement rates, it will reduce the total costs commercial insurance providers are being asked to pay, Padilla added.

Medical malpractice

Proponents of the Sustinet proposal were surprised when concerns over Section 7 of the bill were raised Monday.

The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association said the section “created unprecedented special rights and immunities for physicians and hospitals, which will do great harm to those Connecticut citizens who suffer injuries as a result of negligent medical care.”

Bill Tyra of Trumbull, whose child died as a result of malpractice, told the three committees Monday that he strongly objects to Section 7 of the Sustinet proposal.

“Hospitals and doctors are ill prepared to investigate the quality of medical care and demand accountability in complex events,” Tyra said.

Tyra said the bill gives doctors and hospitals that participate in the Sustinet proposal immunity from malpractice claims.

Figueroa said that is absolutely not the intent of Section 7. He said there’s a misunderstanding here because it certainly wasn’t meant to absolve doctors of negligence. He said it was suppose to encourage doctors to use “evidence-based best practices.” He said doctors can still be liable for negligence even if they follow those best practices.