Even if advocates aren’t completely happy with changes the legislature made to the state Insurance Exchange Board during special session, Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney is tired of being blamed.
When the June special session ended early Wednesday morning, healthcare advocates got at least part of what they’d been clamoring for—the state’s Healthcare Advocate became a voting member of the Insurance Exchange Board. But for some the change didn’t go far enough.
Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, issued a press release about the bill’s passage saying that while Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri is a “respected and valued member, she serves at the pleasure of the governor.”
“Consumers will still have no independent voice on a board dominated by insurance interests and charged with deciding what health insurance options will be available on the Exchange,” Andrews said.
Lynne Ide, advocacy director at the Universal Healthcare Foundation, echoed the remarks Tuesday when she said “Vicki is a wonderful advocate, but that’s what she is, an advocate.”
“We’re disappointed there’s still not a single underinsured or uninsured consumer with a voice on the exchange,” Ide added.
The composition of the exchange board has been a heated topic for some time now and advocates, with their red “healthcare 4every1” shirts, have become a common sight around the halls of the state Capitol.
The House passed a bill which gave Veltri the right to vote but also added four additional members. In addition to Veltri, the bill would have added two representatives of small businesses, and two healthcare consumers.
The Senate never raised the bill and proponents like Ide were soon blaming McKinney’s caucus for threatening to talk the bill to death in the final days of session.
McKinney quickly rejected the notion Republicans killed the House bill. He said it didn’t pass the chamber because Democrats never called it.
Still, the notion that the Senate minority leader is an enemy to the healthcare advocates has been a persistent one. On opening day of the regular legislative session he was met by protesters opposed to McKinney’s appointment to the board, Mickey Herbert, the former CEO of ConnectiCare.
But House and Senate Democrats negotiated Tuesday’s bill with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration without input from Republicans. The four additional members called for in the House bill were not included in their agreement.
Considering his lack of involvement in the finished product, McKinney suggested disappointed advocates find someone else to blame. In his closing remarks, early Wednesday morning McKinney said he was supportive of adding Veltri as a voting member.
“To all those advocates who have zealously fought for their positions and picketed me, and emailed me, and written horrible things about me and said that I alone killed a bill from passing… Well there’s no midnight deadline to this special session and Senator McKinney wasn’t in any of these meetings. And to all those advocates, you’re still not getting four new people,” he said.
“So if you want to look to blame somebody, you ought to stop looking at this senator and look at somebody else,” he concluded.
Reached by phone later in the day, McKinney said he didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when he said “somebody else.” While he joked that he’d like to have the ability to kill some of the majority party’s bills, he said protesters were essentially wasting their time by blaming him.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time blaming me and criticizing me but there’s evidence now that your time was not well spent,” he said. “Clearly I had nothing to do with that bill not passing.”
McKinney acknowledges that his appointment of Herbert was unpopular with advocates but said other appointments were also unpopular but didn’t provoke a picket on opening day.
So who squashed the four additional members? It’s tough to say. Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams, said the legislation was negotiated by the governor’s administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
It’s unlikely the pushback against the new members came from House leadership. The bill adding them passed the chamber in a unanimous vote.
When the Senate failed to act on the bill the House passed during the regular session, some speculated that Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman was responsible because her office wasn’t consulted by the House, which added two Republican appointments to the board when it passed the bill. However, a spokesperson for Wyman has said she supported the legislation despite contrary rumors.
Kevin Lembo, the state comptroller and former state healthcare advocate, said giving Veltri a vote was an important step but he said the legislation was a missed opportunity to add voices from small business community and consumer advocacy groups.
“Their voices would have made for a better, more rounded and appropriate product design,” he said.
Lembo said he hopes the groups will find a way to make their voices heard to the exchange board in other ways.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.