Christine Stuart file photo

(Updated 5:45 p.m.) Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a pair of marquee health care reform bills Wednesday afternoon.

One would have created a volunteer board of directors to study the concept of a statewide public health care option, and the other would have opened the state employees’ health insurance pool to municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses.

Immediately following her veto of the two bills, Rell compared her concerns own over health care to those of the proponents of the two bills and authored an executive order establishing a Health Care Reform Advisory Board. According to a statement from Rell’s office, her advisory board will be asked to develop statewide policies in response to the national health care debate.

“Because – like the proponents of these bills – I believe these issues must be worked out for the benefit of all our residents, I am creating a broad-based panel to develop policies ensuring Connecticut is ready to make the most of the developments at the federal level,” Rell said in the statement.

According to the executive order, Rell’s 15-member board will consider “changes to improve the health of state residents and their access to health care…” In addition Rell will ask the board to look at increasing the range of health care insurance coverage options. The board will begin its work on Feb. 1 and make its final recommendations on Jan. 1, 2011.

Rell said she vetoed the SustiNet proposal, which would have created a nine-member volunteer board, because the legislation limited the scope of the board’s work.

“Limiting the board of directors to a specific approach is particularly unwise at this time,” Rell said.

“SustiNet’s objective is health care for everyone, a laudable goal and one I share,” Rell said in her veto message. ““We cannot, however, afford to proceed with this plan given its financial implications.”

Proponents of the legislation worked hard to eliminate the fiscal note attached to the bill so that none of the recommendations in the original legislation would be implemented over the next two years while the state deals with a $8.8 billion budget deficit. However, Rell cited the old fiscal note as one of her main objections.

The board of directors would be asked to develop blueprints for implementing medical homes, enrollment and other provisions for the new system. The board would also have to show the General exactly how to take advantage of federal resources within 60 days of federal reforms. The goal of SustiNet is to expand coverage to 98 percent of the state’s population by 2014

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, was in his office Wednesday trying to make sense of Rell’s vetoes. In a telephone interview Wednesday he said the board of directors proposed by the SustiNet legislation would represent people from across the state as recommended by members of the General Assembly.

“Instead, the Governor wants to assemble a group by herself,” Donovan said. “She has not shown herself to be sympathetic to consumers in health care and I doubt the members she would chose to sit on the board would be sympathetic to the needs of the community.”

“Insulting”

“I find it insulting,” Donovan said, adding that the two bills will be considered when the General Assembly convenes a special session to look at overriding some of the governor’s 18 vetoes to date. “For the second year in a row she has shown herself as insensitive to health care reform.”

Rell vetoed Donovan’s Health Care Partnership bill for a second year in a row, even though as recently as May 28 she admitted there are savings to be had by transitioning state employees from a fully-insured plan to a self-insured plan. This means that instead of paying premiums to an insurance company, the state would assume the claims risk and immediately save between $62 million and $70 million.

“Although the text of the Partnership bill has changed somewhat since last year, it still retains its most problematic component—a significant cost to the state,” Rell said in her veto message. “This cost is a direct result of pooling an unknown employer risk group with the state employees health insurance plan and prematurely converting such a plan to a self-insured model.”

Rell was so confident in that minimum $62 million savings estimate that she included the money in her second budget proposal.

“While I am not opposed to the concept of self-insurance at the proper time—that time is not now,” Rell said.

Rell seemed to agree with opponents of the Partnership bill who said they were concerned the state won’t be able to accurately predict the claims experience of the pool if it adds municipalities, small businesses, and nonprofits.

However, Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven, tried to ease their fears during the floor debate by telling them that as new employers or municipalities are added to the plan, the State Comptroller will be allowed to do an actuarial analysis of the risk. He said if that risk is detrimental, then the comptroller has the ability to deny these employers access to the pool.

Override?

The Universal Health Care Foundation, which helped author the SustiNet bill, on Wednesday called Rell’s vetoes “callous and ill-informed.”

In a note to supporters, Universal Health Care Foundation President Juan Figueroa wrote, “Our attention now turns to the House and Senate to ask them to override Governor Rell’s veto on July 20 when they meet for their veto session.”

Figueroa urged supporters to let their lawmakers know they support a gubernatorial override.

The Partnership bill, passed 109 to 36 in the House and 21 to 12 in the Senate. The SustiNet bill passed 107 to 35 in the House and 23 to 12 in the Senate. The margin of legislative support is wide enough that a gubernatorial override maybe possible.

Donovan said July 20 is the tentative date scheduled for a veto session and both bills will be considered for an override he said Wednesday.

It is also worth noting that Rell said that neither bill would have provided health insurance for all state residents.
     
Click here to read her veto message.