Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to expand the University of Connecticut Health Center was met with some reluctance by lawmakers over the last few weeks who felt rushed to approve it, but true to form the new governor isn’t backing down.
On Tuesday afternoon Malloy joined the Senate Democratic caucus to answer questions and put to rest some fears the $864 million package is exactly what the state needs to spur job creation.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said it was good for Malloy to hear the questions the caucus had. It also gave him a chance to answer questions many of which Bye said were based on misinformation.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he opposed expansion of the health center’s Farmington campus back when former Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed it last year and he remains opposed. He said he doesn’t understand why the state wants to spend close to $1 billion to build new hospital beds when health care reforms at the federal and state level are moving away from hospital care.
He said expanding hospital beds, which are used by a finite amount of the population, takes away from other area hospitals like Hartford Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital.
But Bye said that’s not exactly true. She said the proposal only includes money for 10 new hospital beds. She said most of the money in the proposal is for the expansion of office space for UConn doctors, an increase enrollment at the medical and dental schools, and 50 incubator spaces for research and development.
She said Malloy is really proposing adding about $254 million in borrowing to the approximately $362 million in borrowing. The remaining $200 million for the ambulatory care facility will be raised through private donations.
“The $254 million is focused on jobs,” Bye said. “He made clear this is what he sees as his most vital jobs bill.”
But McKinney said the proposal should be given a thorough review and vetting by the legislature. He said simply having the informational forum last week was not enough.
“I don’t understand the rush to do this now,” McKinney said.
He said he doesn’t know why the state wants to build up its public hospital, which annually loses money, when it can just partner with Hartford and Saint Francis Hospitals.
Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, agrees. She said everything the federal government is working on in Washington D.C. looks at cutting utilization of hospital beds.
“Everything is aimed at reducing hospital utilization so how can we tax other hospitals to expand UConn’s hospital?“ Dillon wondered.
She said New Haven’s two acute care hospitals are being taxed in Malloy’s budget and will have to find money to pay it. Meanwhile UConn comes to the state every year looking for money to cover its $13 million deficit, she added.
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, said there’s a misconception amongst some of her colleagues that the expansion is about financial stability, but it’s not.
“This is not even about the hospital. It’s about research and jobs,” Willis said. “Essentially this is about a proposal that takes the university from a Tier II to being one of the top 20 in the nation.”
Dillon said it’s possible the plan to add hospital beds and an ambulatory care facility will cannibalize other providers in the area.
Bye said the ambulatory care facility is just renovation of the two towers where the doctors currently have their office space. Some hospital officials worried the ambulatory care facility would be used as a clinic, which would attract more patients with private insurance.
Most hospital patients pay with Medicaid or Medicare, which have lower reimbursement rates than private insurance companies.
Saint Francis Hospital was unavailable for comment on the legislation, but Rocco Orlando, chief medical officer at Hartford Hospital, said they haven’t taken a position on it.
He said they’ve been talking with Malloy’s Chief of Staff Tim Bannon about the proposal, which could come before the state Senate as early as today.
Hartford Hospital already has a 40 year academic relationship with the University of Connecticut which supplies 300 of its residents on any given day, Orlando said.
The Connecticut Hospital Association also isn’t speaking about the specifics of the proposal.
“We are pleased that the Governor’s proposal acknowledges the important economic contributions that hospitals and healthcare make to Connecticut’s economy, and he is willing to make important investments in the field as part of his Bioscience Connecticut proposal,” Kim Hostetler, vice president of administration and communications for the Connecticut Hospital Association said in a statement. “We fully support the Governor’s goal of jobs today, economic growth tomorrow, and innovation for the future – most particularly his objectives of increasing access to high quality healthcare, and graduating and retaining more physicians and dentists to help address our forecasted workforce shortage.”