Christine Stuart file photo
State Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo (Christine Stuart file photo)

The Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee unanimously approved the nomination of the state’s Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo Thursday, despite Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposal to eliminate his office and its seven full-time employees.

During the public hearing lawmakers praised Lembo for helping their constituents navigate the complicated health care claims and appeals process. Lembo’s office helps Connecticut residents that have been denied treatment or coverage by their health insurance carrier.

Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said often the legislature sets up government entities which don’t often succeed at accomplishing the goals it had envisioned. “You have done exactly what legislature has asked you to do,” he said.

Lembo told the committee that since he came to work at the office, “we have served 7,500 people, realizing direct consumer savings of approximately $14 million.”

Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, asked Lembo to clarify how his office is funded. Lembo explained that the office is funded through the state’s insurance fund, which is itself funded by insurance companies.

“No tax dollars involved in our operations,” Lembo said.

“Governor Rell proposed elimination of this office because Connecticut already has a Department of Public Health, an Insurance Department, a Department of Social Services and an Attorney General’s Office,” Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper said. “The proposal was designed to streamline government, reduce duplication and save Connecticut residents money, since a portion of their insurance premiums are used to fund the $2 million budget of the Health Care Advocate’s office.”

Lembo said if his responsibilities were given to another state agency it would not be able to help residents with federal insurance plans. He said there are about 52 percent of Connecticut residents on these type of insurance plans.

“Everyone would be poorly served if there wasn’t an independent advocate to do that work,” Lembo said.

He said the success rate of the office is between 70 to 80 percent. “And we’re not cherry picking cases,” he said. “We take all cases that come our way.”

Lembo was nominated to a second four year term by an advisory committee in January. Rell’s office did not nominate anyone to the post since it had been eliminated in her budget proposal.

Following a press conference Thursday afternoon Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said there’s a lot of support to keep the Office of the Healthcare Advocate. He said he can’t say for certain because they’re currently in budget negotiations with the governor, but seemed optimistic that Lembo’s office would be saved during budget deliberations.

Lembo’s nomination will now go to the House and the Senate for a vote.