Not long after President Barack Obama signed the federal health care bill into law Tuesday, Connecticut’s SustiNet board members were on a conference call talking about how to fulfill their obligations triggered by passage of the bill.
Within 60-days the SustiNet board is required to recommend changes in state laws and regulations to the General Assembly and governor.
The 11-member board, created last year after the Democrat-controlled General Assembly overrode Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto, has been meeting on a monthly basis preparing for the state‘s health care future.
In addition to designing a system, which would pool everyone from the state employees and retirees to the uninsured and Medicaid populations into a single pool, the board will look at coordinating and pooling federal resources.
Kevin Lembo, the state’s health care advocate and co-chairman of the SustiNet board, said the board will talk about specific actions the state must take in order to comply with the federal legislation, which immediately changes things like exclusions for pre-existing conditions and elimination of lifetime coverage caps.
“While the federal bill is historic it doesn’t immediately do a lot in the areas of promoting wellness and cutting the cost curve,” Lembo said Tuesday. And it won‘t do much to help the state with its budget deficit, but Lembo said it will immediately put money back in the pockets of some families that kept their 21 to 26 year old children on their federally regulated insurance plans.
By 2014 the federal legislation “empowers the state to set up an insurance exchange,” where the state could offer the public option envisioned by the SustiNet legislation, Lembo said.
Meanwhile, Cristine Vogel, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health, will convene her own “Rapid Review” panel to investigate the impact of the new federal legislation. She said she envisions taking some members of the Connecticut Health Care Reform Advisory Board, created by Rell in the wake of her SustiNet veto, along with experts in the health care industry and commissioners of various state agencies to go through the bill section by section.
Unlike the SustiNet board Vogel said there’s no timeline on when the “Rapid Review” panel is expected to report, however the word “rapid” is in its title.
Lembo said he believes the two panels will work in concert with each other to make sure neither duplicate each others efforts.
“Hopefully most of the arguing is done,” Vogel said Tuesday.
But there was still a partisan tone in Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s press release Monday.
“It seems everyone in Washington – pundits and politicians alike – had something to say on the bill,” Rell said. “But the only ones not heard were the American people. And people wonder why Washington has never been more unpopular.”
While she said she did not support the federal bill Rell lobbied Connecticut’s Congressional delegation to include $100 million competitive grant that the state could use to expand the University of Connecticut’s hospital. Rell even made the hospital expansion contingent on the federal funds.
In addition to activating the “Rapid Review” panel headed by Vogel, Rell also directed the Social Services Department Commissioner and Budget Secretary Robert Genuario to assess the short and long term impact of the bill no later than next Monday.
“I think everybody’s working on it. Trying to figure it out,“ Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said Tuesday.
He said at the moment though it’s still unclear how this improves the lives of Connecticut’s uninsured population. He said Connecticut is fortunate in that 93 percent of its residents currently have access to health insurance.
“Perhaps finally Connecticut can take the step from the rhetorical to the pragmatic,” Stover said. “Maybe we can actually start having a practical conversation about what problems they solved and what problems they didn‘t solve.”