Josalee Thrift photo
SustiNet rally at the Capitol (Josalee Thrift photo)

Wearing their signature red shirts, more than 600 people paraded Wednesday from Hartford’s Union Station to the state Capitol where they circled the entire building to show their support for SustiNet.

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Blowing wooden train whistles they asked lawmakers, most of whom had left the building, to get on the train and support their plan for a public option, which was stripped from the legislation after talks with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

They had thought the first Democratic governor in 20 years would be supportive of their efforts, which started with a veto override of the legislation creating the SustiNet Board of Directors back in 2009. And they were disappointed to learn Malloy in negotiating the budget with Democratic lawmakers decided to pick apart their proposal which would have allow municipalities, nonprofits, small businesses and the uninsured to join the state employee and retiree health insurance pool.

“If you’re asking do I think this year we could move into a Massachusetts model, the answer is no,” Malloy said Monday at a press conference. “I pointed out my differences, but my differences don’t lessen my desire to cut the costs in an effective way.” He said he hasn’t shut the door on a public option in the future, but opposed other parts of the legislation because it took away his office’s power to negotiate health insurance contracts and gave it to a quasi-public agency to manage.

Those at the rally asked Malloy to reclaim his promise to deliver on health care reform by clearing the way for a public option at the appropriate time and in a fiscally responsible manner.

“SustiNet is a centerpiece of that promise,” said Linda St. Peter, a member of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said. “We are well aware of the fiscal challenges and an affordable health care option for small businesses and independent contractors is part of the solution.”

Josalee Thrift photo
SustiNet rally at the Capitol (Josalee Thrift photo)

Ellen Andrews, executive director of the CT Health Policy Project, said the compromise creates more silos by adding additional positions to the comptrollers office and putting some of the control under Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who co-chaired the SustiNet Board of Directors prior to her election.

“It’s not dead,” Andrews said of the public option. “That’s why all these red shirts are out here for the public option.”

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, which spearheaded the creation of SustiNet, said the rally was a way to make sure the governor understands there’s a movement for a public option.

“That means making sure the way is paved for a public option that meets the needs of small businesses and residents in a timely fashion,” Figueroa said.

Rhona Cohen, an organizer with the Healthcareforevery1 campaign, was carrying a poster quoting Malloy on the campaign trail.

“I want to be perfectly clear. I support a public option. I don’t think we have health care reform without a public option,” Malloy said on Aug. 17, 2010.

Cohen said she’s just trying to hold the governor to his word.

House Speaker Chris Donovan, who worked hard to keep SustiNet in the budget proposal, said “by controlling costs, we help families and can encourage small businesses to create jobs.”

“We’re going to continue to work with the supporters of health care improvements and SustiNet here in Connecticut to make reform stronger and stronger,” Donovan said. “We need to do what’s in the best interests of all of Connecticut’s residents.”

Rep. Betsy Ritter, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee and another staunch supporter of the original SustiNet proposal, said she was disappointed it was modified, but will keep working to move the proposal forward.

“Through these efforts, our state will be better poised to take advantage of opportunities in the federal health care reforms, bringing affordable health care closer to reality,” Ritter said. “Increased job opportunities for the state, helping small businesses thrive and grow, and building a stronger economy are just some of the advantages we can look forward to.”

Others in the crowd Wednesday weren’t as accommodating when it comes to compromise.

Wildaliz Bermudez of Hartford who went toe-to-toe with Malloy at a town hall meeting last month said she doesn’t think there should be a compromise.

“It’s unacceptable,” Bermudez said.