After months of being asked to do so by healthcare advocates, the Government Administration and Elections Committee has voted to change the makeup of the state’s health Insurance Exchange board.
In a 9-2 vote, lawmakers forwarded to the floor a bill that would increase the board’s membership from 14 to 16.
The board was appointed this summer by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders from all four caucuses. It will be responsible for setting up the quasi-public agency that’s in charge of Connecticut’s health care exchange. The exchange will be where everyone in the state is mandated to purchase their insurance beginning in 2014, if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Patient and Affordable Care Act.
The Insurance and Real Estate Committee has previously approved the bill adding two new members to the board.
One of the new members will need to come from the small business community, while the other will need to be a health care consumer. Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, will appoint the small business representative, while House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, will appoint the consumer.
The bill will also give a vote to Victoria Veltri, the state’s Healthcare Advocate, who sits on the board as a non-voting member.
Since its inception advocates have criticized the makeup of the board which they said relied too heavily on former insurance industry executives.
Ellen Andrews, the executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project and a leading advocate for changing the board’s makeup, called the committee’s changes “a good start,” but said they are not enough.
“The federal regulations say that it should be a majority of small business and consumers,” she said, adding that while the board may be in compliance with the letter of the federal law, it still fails to capture its spirit.
Andrews said that her organization has decided not to lobby lawmakers for further reforms to the board as the bill goes to the House floor, saying “politically it’s not going to work.”
Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, one of the two lawmakers to vote against the bill, said he did so because he wanted to see more consumer and small businesses on the board than the Insurance Committee proposed.
The board’s quorum provision also was increased, up to eight members from six.
Both GAE Committee chairs — Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, and Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield — said that they were confident the bill would make it through the House.
Janet Davenport, the Universal Health Care Foundation’s vice president for communications, said that the bill is a “step in the right direction.”
As for the state’s Healthcare Advocate getting a vote on the board?
“While we certainly think it’s important for [Veltri] to have a vote, it’s not the same as a consumer,” she said, adding that the Universal Health Care Foundation had been advocating for at least two consumers on the board.
“As the board is right now, it’s imbalanced. And this [bill] will help to balance it.”