Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that he considers SustiNet, the state’s best shot at a public health insurance option, a legislative initiative. Because he views it as such he didn’t include it in his budget, which has some health care advocates wondering exactly where his administration will come down on that proposal and possibly federal health care reform.
Jeannette DeJesús, Malloy’s special advisor on health care reform and Deputy Public Health Commissioner, said the governor fully supports federal health care reform and is doing everything he can to help position the state to maximize federal funding.
Just last week, Malloy announced that Connecticut will benefit from a $35.6 million federal grant aimed at helping six New England states develop an online gateway to the federal exchanges that start in 2014. The exchanges will be the portals through which all private insurance companies will sell their insurance and enroll individuals who will be mandated, pending the outcome of several court challenges, to purchase health insurance.
Connecticut’s involvement in the regional effort marks a “giant stride” toward full implementation of health care reform, DeJesús said.
In a phone interview earlier this week, DeJesús said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave out seven grants to various regions of the country to help develop the technology to support the exchanges. The technology will then be deployed through a website where residents can go to purchase health insurance and determine their eligibility for various programs offered both through the state and private insurance companies.
“Connecticut in a very short period of time has become a pace setter state for developing new products that help us create the insurance exchanges,” DeJesús said.
While Malloy’s administration is making strides setting up the federal insurance exchanges, it signaled last week in testimony that it has some concerns about SustiNet, which piggybacks off the federal reform.
“It’s a little premature to set up SustiNet with the aggressive timetable in the bill,” Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said last week.
SustiNet is a program set up by lawmakers to create a plan for health insurance reform in Connecticut, including a state operated public option. It was created by a Democratic legislature as a homegrown way to bring universal coverage to the state, and, ideally, save money and improve health care in the process.
A board appointed by the legislature delivered its report last month, leaving legislators to make it law.
But the aggressive timetable and the structure, which Barnes said gives too much power to a quasi-governmental authority, has the Malloy administration looking to apply the brakes.
“We’re committed to the federal heath care reform process as the primary vehicle” for insuring as many Connecticut residents as possible, Barnes said.
However, Malloy has signaled he’s willing to speak with advocates about how to resolve their concerns.
“As I’ve said before, the rising cost of health care is a major detriment to job creation here in Connecticut, and I commit to resolving open SustiNet issues with all parties at the table on behalf of Connecticut residents and businesses,“ Malloy said in a Feb. 1 statement.
Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said he would have “welcomed some stronger signals,” from the Malloy administration, but understands he had his hands full during his first few months on the budget proposal.
“We understand his first priority is balancing a budget,” Figuero said Thursday. “I don’t take the fact that they haven’t been outwardly more supportive as a signal that they’re not committed to the basic framework of SustiNet.”
When SustiNet was being developed it assumed federal health care reform would happen, so it compliments the federal legislation and helps Connecticut maximize the amount of federal dollars the state could receive, he said.
“What has driven a lot of our work is an understanding of the cost issues, and how we can bend the cost curve,” Figueroa said.
SustiNet advocates say the state will save more than $250 million a year in health care costs. The increase comes from an increase in federal Medicaid funds.
Three legislative committees have held a public hearing on the SustiNet bill, but no votes have been taken.
“I certainly hope [the committee takes action soon]. I can’t tell you I have a date yet,” Rep. Betsy Ritter, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee said. “That’s because it’s big and it takes a lot of time. To sit down and discuss it takes a lot of time so I don’t have a date set yet. Obviously the next thing I would expect to happen would be to vote it out of the committee.”
“Personally I wish there were [a date set] and I wish we were done and these guys really wish we were done,” she said.