Republicans in Congress have scheduled a vote to repeal federal health care reform today, while Democrats in Connecticut are expected to raise bill that will act as a vehicle for a public option in the Nutmeg state.
The legislature’s Public Health Committee will raise a concept bill Wednesday morning based on the recommendations of the SustiNet Board of Directors.
The legislation is expected to rely on the 200-page report by the SustiNet Board, which proposed pooling the states various insured populations to lower the cost of health insurance for municipalities, state employees, and eventually small businesses and individuals.
“This report provides the General Assembly with a roadmap for reform – and propels Connecticut to the forefront in addressing a nationwide health care and financial crisis,” State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who co-chaired the SustiNet Board, said last month.
The proposal says the public option, which won’t be available until 2014, will be financed entirely by premium payments and federal tax credits without any state funds. Under the proposal the public option will be managed by a quasi-public board, initially run out of the comptroller’s office, to oversee implementation of SustiNet and contract for services as necessary as it evolves into a health care benefits plan.
The proposal urges the legislature and SustiNet board to find the necessary resources to expand HUSKY eligibility before then so it can take advantage of the additional federal funds available under the Patient and Affordable Care Act.
Aside from the logistics of merging all the plans together, what advocates say is revolutionary about SustiNet is its attention to lowering health care costs through reforms such as patient centered medical homes, electronic medical records, and preventative treatment initiatives to improve health outcomes.
But cost has been a central issue in the health care debate since the beginning.
The legislation, which created the SustiNet Board of Directors, was vetoed in 2009 by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who claimed the cost of implementing a universal health care plan was too expensive.
While early projections pegged the implementation of SustiNet in the billions of dollars, passage of federal health care reform changed those expenditures into savings for the state.
“We’ve estimated that the combination of federal health care reform and SustiNet will save Connecticut taxpayers $226-$277 million per year, starting in 2014, by replacing current state spending on HUSKY and Medicaid with newly-available federal dollars,” Lembo said last month. “And if SustiNet slows health care cost growth by just one percentage point per year, state budget deficits will fall by $355 million in 2014, with reductions reaching more than $500 million a year, starting in 2019.”
Currently, Connecticut’s government spends about $8 billion annually on health care for state employees, retirees, Medicaid recipients and other populations, but proponents of the SustiNet concept say pooling these populations will save the state more than $226 million a year.
Those savings for the state are directly tied to the federal health care reform legislation that Republicans in Congress are looking to repeal. But even if federal health care reform stays in tact, Republican’s in the legislature are doubtful it will save the state money.
“This report is incomplete at best,“ Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said earlier this month. “How is it that everyone seems to know how much Sustinet will ‘eventually’ save, but no one knows or wants to talk about how much it will cost taxpayers right now?”
“From what we have seen, the price tag for this single-payer universal healthcare plan will cost taxpayers billions,” McKinney said. “It would be irresponsible to move forward at this time.”
But the legislature’s Democrat-majority is supportive of health care reform.
“Under federal health reform, our constituents are already seeing better access to affordable care, an end to arbitrary lifetime limits on benefits and denials without a chance of appeal,” House Speaker Chris Donovan and Public Health Committee Co-chairwoman Besty Ritter said Tuesday. “In addition, our state is taking advantage of millions of new health care dollars for Medicaid and retiree health insurance. We stand behind our delegation as they stand up to the special interests and putting Connecticut’s people before insurance industry profits.”