The SustiNet legislation, which implements a state run public health insurance option, moved forward Monday with a few minor changes when the Public Health Committee voted 16 to 10 to forward it to the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
The committee voted to strip the bill of two provisions. The first would have allowed any doctors that accepted SustiNet to be exempt from medical malpractice and the other would have exempted foundations, which fund groups that support the bill, from registering as lobbyists.
Rep. Besty Ritter, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, said both issues would have been a distraction going forward.
The legislation still creates a quasi-public agency to manage the plan, which pools together all state run insurance programs and eventually allows the public to purchase what would be a public option.
Republicans lawmakers still largely object to the underlying concept of the bill.
“The parts of Sustinet that may provide meaningful reform can be implemented without a public option and without creating a quasi-public agency that will cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, said Monday. “We ought to try those reforms first before creating a system that could collapse under its own weight.”
Ironically Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn’t necessarily disagree.
Last week during an unrelated press conference Malloy said he generally supports the goals of SustiNet, such as increased access and affordability, but said “we’re not in a position to undertake a full implementation of SusitNet in this biennium budget.”
He said that doesn’t mean his administration isn’t committed to the overall goals.
“What we have is an opportunity to examine how those goals could interface with the private sector, as well as additional government monies coming in to support that activity,“ Malloy said last week at a press conference naming his Economic Development Director.
“Having said that there’s always going to be a role for the private sector in our dealings with many of the insurance companies, with respect to health care really are information technology companies and processing companies,“ Malloy added.
Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years, said he fully supports federal health care reform and just because he’s putting the brakes on SustiNet doesn’t mean his administration isn’t working to bring federal dollars to the state to improve health care.
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 Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes said the way SustiNet is set up gives too much power to a quasi-public agency. The current bill takes away the executive branch’s control of the state‘s $8 billion health care budget and gives it to a quasi-public agency.
“We’re committed to the federal heath care reform process as the primary vehicle” for insuring as many Connecticut residents as possible, Barnes has said.
Malloy has signaled he’s willing to speak with advocates about how to resolve their concerns. The meeting was supposed to occur last week.
“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, applauded the committee for passing the legislation Monday.
“We know there are still many challenges ahead before SustiNet makes it to the floor for a full vote, but we remain confident, and committed to SustiNet as our state’s best opportunity to save money, control costs and make affordable, quality health care a reality for every resident of our state.
Two weeks ago, Figueroa that 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. “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.