Shortly after midnight and the end of the legislative session Wednesday, the finger-pointing began over the death of a bill that sought to expand the state’s Health Insurance Exchange Board by five voting members.
The bill, HB 5013, was approved by two committees and cleared the House on a unanimous vote April 25. The bill would have added four members to the board and give voting rights to State Health Care Advocate Victoria Veltri.
Veltri currently sits on the board but cannot vote. The four additional voting members would be made up of two representatives of small businesses, and two healthcare consumers.
Healthcare advocates wearing their trademark red T-shirts have been a regular fixture at committee meetings, public hearings, and outside the House and Senate chambers, especially in the final days of session.
The bill had enough votes to pass the Senate, according to several advocates and some Democratic lawmakers. However, by about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he’d been told that the bill would not be called.
McKinney also disagreed with the assertion that the bill had enough votes to pass.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, had said Tuesday that he expected the bill to pass should it be called, but that it would have some sort of compromise amendment.
Eric George, a lobbyist from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said that he wasn’t actively lobbying against the bill, and said he liked the direction the healthcare exchange board was heading.
So what killed the bill?
“Time,” McKinney said.
The bill did not seem to be on anyone’s radar — other than its advocates — in the final days of the session.
Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said Tuesday he hadn’t heard much talk about the legislation, and neither had Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said it wasn’t a bill she was tracking, but that if it had come up it would have passed.
Lynne Ide, a lobbyist with the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, had a different theory.
“Republicans would not budge,” she said.
The minority party, she said, had threatened to “talk” the bill, delaying its passage to the point of obstructing other legislation by running out the clock on the session.
Advocates also said that McKinney opposed the bill because of criticism he had received over his appointment of Mickey Herbert, the former CEO of ConnectiCare.
Just minutes after midnight, McKinney responded to Ide’s suggestion that he opposed the bill because of criticism of his appointment of Herbert. He acknowledged that he had in the past told advocates that “you can attract people better with honey than you can with vinegar.” But he rejected the characterization that the criticism of the Herbert appointment was the ultimate reason the bill failed.
McKinney said he had previously spoken to advocates and agreed upon the original addition of two members and providing a vote for State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, but he was caught off guard by the revised version of the bill that came out of the House. The House version would have added four members in addition to empowering Veltri with a vote.
McKinney said that he didn’t kill the bill. Rather, he said it died because the Democrats didn’t call it.
“They didn’t call it yesterday, and they didn’t call it Monday, and they didn’t call it Friday, and they didn’t call it Thursday,” McKinney said. “If they had called the bill on Friday, it would have been impossible for anyone to talk the bill to death.”
In a statement released just after midnight, healthcare activist and former gubernatorial candidate Juan Figueroa still placed the blame with Republicans.
“It was irresponsible and reckless of the GOP to hold Democrats hostage on this bill since last week,” Figueroa said. “Consumer and small business advocates, and labor, good government and clergy activists fought long and hard over the past eight months for a solution and in the final hours of the session, the Senate still couldn’t get the job done.”