As the state moves to implement health care reforms, information gleaned from the SustiNet board’s recommendations can provide guidance, but the plan itself is still quite dead, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said Monday at a SustiNet Health Care Cabinet meeting.
“SustiNet’s not around anymore, there is no SustiNet at this point,” she said after the group’s first meeting.
The plan was conceived as an attempt to offer affordable access to health care by the creation of a massive health insurance pool, combining the current pool of state employees and retirees with people covered under state assistance programs like Medicaid.
The cabinet represents the remnants of the work of the SustiNet board. It was established under a bill that saw it become a powerless advisory board.
SustiNet died a slow but definitive death over the last year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy initially distanced himself from the plan soon after taking office. He eventually took steps to curtail it when it became a source of controversy among state employees considering his $1.6 billion dollar concessions package.
Many state workers expressed concerns that being added into a larger insurance pool would drive up their health care costs. When it became clear those concerns were likely affecting the vote on the labor deal, which the state’s budget is contingent on, officials took dramatic steps to kill the plan.
The legislature went so far as to recommit the SustiNet bill near the end of the last session, a rare move that ensured it could never come to a vote. Meanwhile, Wyman wrote an email to all state employees telling them their health care insurance would still be offered through Anthem and Oxford and had nothing to do with SustiNet.
But even after the labor agreement was ratified following a second round of voting, rumors persist among some state workers that they will at some point in the future find themselves in the SustiNet pool.
Lisa Herskowitz, a state prosecutor who has called on the state Board of Labor Relations to invalidate the labor agreement, said in her complaint it’s still a common concern.
“There is a boatload of us who believe that we will end up in a health plan, call it SustiNet of whatever you want, that we will be funding, but which will be extended to municipal employees and non-state employees of some of the bigger SEBAC unions, like AFSCME,” she wrote.
But Wyman said Monday that SustiNet now only serves as an information source to inform the decisions of the cabinet.
“The information’s not dead but the idea of the SustiNet plan is dead,” she said.
Several of the cabinet members said it was important not to ignore all the work and information the board has already done.
“For 18 months, the SustiNet board, its committees and task forces, worked to do a lot of the research and analysis and formulate recommendations that really bring us to this stage here, where we are today,” said Frances Padilla of the Universal Heatlh Care Foundation.
The cabinet should capitalize on all that work and bring members who were not involved with the SustiNet board up to speed on its recommendations, she said. During the first meeting the cabinet established several working groups to tackle various health care issues.
The SustiNet board already worked extensively on those same issues, Padilla said.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo agreed.
“A lot of that baseline work has been done and a lot of it was a result of agency briefings and all that work and I, for one, do not want to start again,” he said.
Jeannette DeJesús, Malloy’s special advisor on health reform, said that while the group is fortunate to have all that information available to it, it’s important to remember that health care is a rapidly changing field.
“There’s a lot of new things happening that we need to consider, there are lots of new opportunities, and there are lots of people who want to play that have not participated in the past. Our goal is to really be inclusive at every turn,” she said.
The group will continue to meet once a month in an effort to reach an aggressive time table to implement the health care reforms called for in the federal affordable care act. Their next meeting will be on Oct. 13.
On Sept. 9, DeJesús and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Patricia A. Rehmer announced that the department secured an $8.3 million federal grant to ramp up identification and treatment of adults who are at-risk for substance misuse or diagnosed with a substance use disorder.