Christine Stuart photo
Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Jordan Oberstein (Christine Stuart photo)

(Updated 6:04 p.m.) Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell was at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford Wednesday for a ceremonial signing of a bill that expands health insurance coverage for children with autism.

When asked if this the insurance industry considered this a friendly piece of legislation, Rell said it expands coverage, but does not increase costs “astronomically.”

A few weeks ago Rell vetoed legislation which would have expanded insurance coverage for ostomy supplies, prosthetic devices, hearing aides for children, and wigs related to alopecia areata and bone marrow testing. In addition it would have required group insurance carriers to develop wellness plans.

“The simple truth is we cannot afford this bill,” Rell said when vetoing that piece of legislation.

According to the vague Office of Fiscal Analysis estimate the cost of the bill Rell vetoed “could be significant,” but failed to offer any hard numbers or define what it meant by significant. It also noted there would be an increased cost to fully-insured municipalities. 

Similarly, the Office of Fiscal Analysis noted that the expanded coverage of autism spectrum disorders for children under the age of 14 will cost the state between $1.2 and $1.6 million per year. It may also increase health insurance premiums and costs for municipalities that are fully insured, the fiscal note states.

When speaking at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Wednesday Rell said the autism bill “offers support—and more importantly, hope—to families of children coping with a deeply frustrating condition.”

Rell said the bill she vetoed created new mandates for health insurers in the state.

When asked how signing the autism bill jibes with the Republican philosophy of fewer mandates and less government interference Rell said “there weren’t too many business that objected to this because it’s already the legislation.” Then after acknowledging he’s not a Republican, she turned to Democratic Sen. Jonathan Harris of West Hartford to help answer the question.

“There’s a concern always about mandates and costs, but you have to take a look at the whole picture,” Harris said. “And the governor’s right, we can’t spend everything all the time, but we have to make wise investments because sometimes you need to spend to save.”

The Veto of the Two Marquee Health Care Bills

At her first public appearance since vetoing the SustiNet bill and the Health Care Partnership bill last week, Rell said one bill cost too much and the other didn’t expand health care access.

When asked if she thought the Democratic majority in the General Assembly planned on overriding her veto of those two bills, Rell said, “I’m not sure.”

The reason cited in at least 14 of Rell’s 19 vetoes is cost, but Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said, “Make no mistake – the cost of doing nothing is far greater.”

“We are disappointed by Gov. Rell’s latest effort to stand in the way of substantial reforms in Connecticut that will help grow jobs, make health care more affordable and accessible, and protect our environment,” Williams said in a statement Wednesday.

The legislature’s Democratic majority is considering overriding Rell’s veto of several bills next week.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues in the General Assembly to override many of Gov. Rell vetoes and help move this state forward,” Williams said. 

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said Rell is trying to justify her vetoes of health care reform legislation with scare tactics and faulty information.

“The Governor is wrong to suggest that the SustiNet bill will cost the state $1 billion annually in the near term,” Donovan said. “I am surprised that she would use such a scare tactic.”

As for the Health Care Partnership bill which would allow municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses join the state employees health insurance pool, Donovan said, the governor “cherry picks” data when projecting health care costs for that bill. 

He said Rell’s analysis “also did not account for an annual savings of up to $20 million from no longer paying insurance companies to run the state plan.”