CTNJ file photo
Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott (CTNJ file photo)

A controversial bill that would allow municipalities and other government entities to join the state’s health insurance pool was approved 10 to 6 by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee on Tuesday.

Some members on the committee said they had a hard time understanding the need for another insurance product when the state already has it’s own exchange, a municipal health insurance plan, and the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which allows municipalities and boards of education to join the state plan but excludes them from the same pool.

“I feel like we’re going back in time to attempt something that was tried many years ago when we lived in a different world as far as insurance goes,” Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said.

How many healthcare plans does the state want or need to have? Sampson said as he picked the bill apart section by section during a lengthy debate.

“In my mind, the answer is zero,” Sampson said. “Insurance is a private marketplace available product.”

Sampson wondered why organized labor, which is supporting the bill, isn’t advocating for towns to join the insurance exchange.

Rep. Robert Megna, D-New Haven, said the fiscal note on the bill says there could be potential savings for the municipalities.

The basic assumption behind the legislation is that in most cases the state plan and benefits are much richer and offered at a much better rate than what a municipality could access in the market on its own.

It’s unclear if self-insured towns would have to give their claims data to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo under the bill, but the bill would require all other towns to give their claims data to Lembo annually. Lembo would have to create a team to review the data and decide which towns it would cover under the state plan and what premium they would pay. The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition would also have to give its blessing to allow a municipality join the state plan.

Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO, told the Labor Committee in February that municipalities can help lower the cost of insurance they offer their employees by submitting the claims data to the comptroller and accessing the “purchasing power” of the state plan.

“Let’s not kick the can down the road anymore,” Pelletier said.

AFSCME Council 4 Political Director Matthew Brokman told the Labor Committee that requiring the health care data to be reported to the comptroller “will provide the state and municipalities with needed information to better analyze what is driving health insurance costs so we can find win-win solutions.”

Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, said this bill doesn’t create another plan, it’s just “pooling everybody into one plan.”

Sampson said the bill seems to mandate that municipalities turn over their information to the Comptroller’s office annually so he can determine whether to allow a town to join. If a town is allowed to join, then Lembo would be the one to set their premium rates.

“We don’t have the right to do that. We’re not the lords of anything,” Sampson said.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities opposes the legislation because it would mandate the towns to hand over their claims data to the state. It testified in February that “municipal officials are already well-versed purchasers of health care and have the means, resources, and ability to compare and contract local options in the marketplace.”

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said the cost associated with reporting this type of data to the state “would be a major burden placed on towns’ already strapped budgets.”

Sampson said there are only 17 of the 169 municipalities participating in the current Connecticut Partnership Plan, which gives towns access to the state employee plan benefits, but doesn’t put them in the same pool.

That’s “pretty crappy if you ask me,” Sampson said of the participation rate.

The Connecticut Partnership Plan was one of former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s prized pieces of legislation.

The new bill that would require municipalities to give their information annually to the state has made it through three legislative committees and is on the Senate calendar.