Rumors tangling up SustiNet in the negotiations between the Malloy administration and the state employee unions can be summed up in one word:  Baloney. Unfortunately, the multi-media channels that deliver the news and information we need to make intelligent decisions frequently get misused to serve up innuendo and misinformation – prime grist for the rumor mill.

It’s unfortunate a deliberate misinformation campaign added needless tension, and distracted a minority of state employees from the real issues at hand.  Clearly, SustiNet had nothing do with their negotiations or plans to alter union benefits – something that obviously can only be done through collective bargaining.  Still, suspicions that the dead concession deal was linked to the SustiNet plan live on, according to a story this past week in the CT Mirror

One needs to look no further than the blogosphere to see how the poor dead -horse- rumor needlessly gets dragged into the public discourse. Lest anyone think I, or my colleagues at the Universal Health Care Foundation,  have a penchant for conspiracy theories, a quick review of the rumor’s cyber-style bludgeoning earlier this month is particularly instructive.  In his July 5th blog post, former Republican state senator turned Hartford Courant columnist,  Kevin Rennie, reported uncovering an April 14th letter to the governor from AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director, Sal Luciano supposedly suggesting the state employee health plan would become part of SustiNet.  Some of Mr. Rennie’s fans rushed to applaud him for exposing the so-called ‘smoking gun’  letter included in what the post characterized as a “bundle of 15 missives” sent by Juan Figueroa, the president of Universal Health Care Foundation.  And if that wasn’t enough to push some buttons, Mr. Rennie informed his readers that Mr. Figueroa sent Mr. Luciano’s letter –  in that bundle –  at the same time union negotiations were happening.  And the point is? With all due respect to Mr. Rennie’s investigative blogging and journalistic talents, since when did open letters written last spring in support of public policy by consumer advocates and leaders in the business, medical, labor and faith communities constitute a news flash?  Not only did Universal Health Care Foundation send the letters to CTNewsJunkie, but also the CT Mirror, which referenced the letters in an April news story and published them on its site.  The Connecticut Association of REALTORS, League of Women Voters and American Cancer Society were among the other organizations represented in the bundle.

The only thing suspicious is casting transparent, public activities in a mysterious light and unnecessarily using loaded catchphrases and buzzwords.  For example, union members’ misplaced worries over rumored changes to their health benefits were characterized in the blog as fear of being made “the vanguard” of a “social experiment” in universal health care.  Talk about extremes. When SustiNet is not being marginalized as part of a radical socialist plot that goes too far it’s being criticized as a watered down study that doesn’t go far enough.  Both, of course, ring hollow.  The war of words notwithstanding, clearly a better understanding of SustiNet, and its significance in the effort to move health care forward in Connecticut, is needed.

SustiNet is public policy designed to bring health care in Connecticut into the 21st Century and make quality, affordable health care a reality for all residents.  It is the outgrowth of several years of research and work by the foundation in partnership with national experts and broad-based group of residents across the state.  SustiNet was developed to be implemented in phases in concert with federal reform.  Key components of the first phase of SustiNet, which was passed in 2009 as well as recommendations by the SustiNet Board – were included in the overarching health reform law passed last month. 

The new law (PA 11-58) calls for creating a SustiNet Cabinet by August 1, which will be charged with duties that include producing a business plan that will explore alternatives to private health insurance—including a public insurance option.  The cabinet will also be responsible for recommending measures to control health care costs and improve quality to the governor.  This is nothing to pooh-pooh.  In addition to the cabinet, the new law puts the mechanisms in place necessary to better coordinate state and federal reform regulations, and maximize the state’s use of federal resources. 

A separate, but complementary new law, will create the marketplace known as a “health insurance exchange” required of states by 2014 under federal law.  Small businesses and consumers will be able to comparison shop for affordable health insurance plans from among the options offered in the new exchange.  It’s worth noting here that rather than merely limiting the number of insurers on the exchange’s oversight board,  Connecticut wisely chose to ban their participation entirely.  This is good for consumers.  In fact, when residents look beyond the hoopla and misinformation – deliberate or otherwise – they will see our state gained two solid laws this summer that will dramatically change the direction of health care in our state. 

Granted, these kind of good-news policy reports don’t have quite the same intrigue as “a bundle of missives” to the governor or the bite of controversial union deals and wild “social experiments.” But ultimately, they contain the information we will all need to understand better as the state moves forward in the effort to achieve quality, affordable health care for all of its residents.  What we don’t need is any more baloney. 

Janet Davenport serves as the Vice President for Communications at Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut in Meriden and is a former Hartford Courant editorial writer and Springfield Newspaper editorial page editor.