HARTFORD, CT—The House passed a bill Thursday morning that ensures 10 “essential health benefits” will continued to be covered in Connecticut even if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act.
The bill passed 114-32 with broad bipartisan support.
It now moves to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last year.
Most of the debate had nothing to do with the bill, but the ideological divide over the Affordable Care Act, which Congress has been unable to repeal or replace.
Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the bill was about “identity politics.”
“I want people to have access to everything under the sun, but I want it to be their choice,” Sampson said. He said he’s also worried about what will be said about his colleagues who vote against the legislation, which is titled: “An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage of Essential Health Benefits and Expanding Mandated Health Benefits for Women, Children and Adolescents.”
He said they might imply those who voted against it were opposed to giving health benefits to women, children, and adolescents when the bill applies to everyone.
Sampson said the Affordable Care Act, which is often dubbed Obamacare, “is a failure. It is the reason our insurance is so expensive.”
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who championed the legislation said it won’t impact insurance rates because these benefits are already covered by insurance plans.
The legislation would apply to fully-insured plans. It would not impact self-insured plans like the one the state and large employers use. Several lawmakers talked about how guilty they feel about paying so little for such good health benefits.
The essential health benefits protected under the bill include ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn health care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.
“We want to make sure here as policymakers in Connecticut that those 10 things don’t go away because of what’s going on in Washington,” Scanlon said.
Rep. Joe Delacruz, D-Groton, said that healthcare is a right and opponents of the legislation do not. He said they shouldn’t be comparing healthcare coverage to a motor vehicle.
“I believe that it’s a right. If we’re going to define it we should tell people where we stand,” Delacruz said. He said he believes it’s something everyone should have access to regardless of their financial circumstances.
Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, said he doesn’t believe healthcare is a right. He said it’s a benefit.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said mandating things from Hartford “does not make things cheaper.” He said “choice brings down prices.”
Sampson said things were better before Obamacare and supporting the bill will increase insurance premiums for Connecticut residents.
In addition to the mandates, the legislation would also allow for a one year prescription for birth control. Scanlon said one other reason the bill is a good one is that it provides access to contraception without co-pays.
Scanlon said the bill is needed “because lots of people in our state who are watching what’s going on in Washington with great anxiety.
He said the 10 health benefits in the bill are “most popular part of the Affordable Care Act.”
One of the co-sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said the bill is especially important considering the opioid epidemic facing the state.
“Many families are one health benefit away from bankruptcy,” Linehan said, “wondering whether they should take their medicine or put foot on the table.”
Another co-sponsor, Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, added: “This protects people in Connecticut in case things happen in Washington.”
She said “health is not a choice.”
She said before the Affordable Care Act people with pre-existing conditions were unable to obtain health insurance and if they were lucky enough to have it, they were paying much more to see a doctor than those who didn’t have a pre-existing condition.
The bill now goes to the Senate.