Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — A study of what a Medicaid public option for health insurance would look like in Connecticut squeaked through the Human Services Committee Thursday on a party line vote.

The committee sent it to the House by a 10-9 vote.

Republicans objected to the makeup of the group which would be overseeing the study because seven of the nine members would be Democrats. They also objected to allowing a discussion about how an “insurance product” would be managed by the Department of Social Services.

However, most objectionable was the subject matter of the bill—a public option.

“We’re walking down a single road with a preordained conclusion,” Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said.

He said they all know the Affordable Care Act has “not achieved the promises that were made.”

But Kelly suggested it would be better to “study all options,” not just a Medicaid public option.

Connecticut’s health insurance exchange already has two private insurance companies competing for business in the individual market on the exchange. That’s down from three when the exchange opened in 2013.

Before it was passed in 2010, Congress was considering a public option as part of the ACA, until former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he would filibuster any bill that included a public option. Lieberman didn’t seek re-election after that.

“It feels like this is being railroaded to a specific end,” Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said. “I think it needs to be a broader look for those who don’t qualify for Medicaid or a subsidy on the exchange, yet are having a hard time buying insurance.”

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, also objected to the legislation.

“I just think that Medicaid is not an insurance program,” Markley said. “And I feel like the idea of essentially trying to make it into one and claiming it wouldn’t be a tremendous cost to taxpayers if that were to happen is to deny the cost of funding Medicaid.”

Democrats on the committee supported the measure.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said when all of her friends and relatives turn 65 years old “not one of them is opposed to the public option, whatever their party.”

Bye was referring to Medicare.

Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said there’s nothing in the bill that says they must come up with a product for the next session.

“All it says is we want to look at it and see if it’s an option,” Abercrombie said.

Abercrombie and Bye also disagreed with Kelly’s description of how the ACA hasn’t delivered because insurance premiums have gone up.

Both said insurance premiums were going up every year with or without the ACA. They said while they would have hoped it would have had a bigger impact, there’s evidence that it has kept insurance rates lower in the employer-sponsored marketplace.

As of March 14, there are 104,854 Connecticut residents who purchase their insurance through the exchange, which is also known as Access Health CT.

However, there’s a concern that the ACA is beginning to deteriorate due to action taken by the Trump administration, which was unable to win enough support to repeal the law, but has taken executive actions that have impacted the insurance markets.

The spending bill Congress will vote on before the weekend does not include any proposals by U.S. Senators to stabilize the ACA’s insurance markets. Something that was promised to Senators in exchange for their votes on a sweeping tax reform package that was approved in December 2017.