Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Ned Lamont at Community Health Services (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont has much lower expectations for what he’s going to be able to do to improve the health of Connecticut residents than one might expect from a Democratic candidate this year.

He said creating a universal type healthcare system in Connecticut is an “aspirational goal” given the current fiscal situation.

Does he believe everyone in Connecticut has to purchase health insurance now that it’s not mandated by the federal government?

“I don’t right now,” Lamont said. “And I’ll tell you why, because I just don’t know if the subsidies and protections for people to make it affordable for them are going to be coming out of this Trump administration. So until we know what those subsidies are, until we know what it would cost people, I think I’m gonna have to wait on that.”

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said he also opposes an individual mandate at the moment because “affordability is a question and the quality of plans is a question.”

He said once the state can make those plans affordable then it can ask everyone to purchase insurance, “but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Susan Bysiewicz, Lamont’s running mate, said they would “more aggressively market” Access Health CT, which is the state’s health insurance exchange. It’s unclear how much money they would put toward that effort.

Access Health CT already spends $500,000 a year on “brand awareness and loyalty” and promotion of new product offerings. The organization has a budget of about $32 million this fiscal year and plans to give their employees a 3 percent salary increase, along with an increase in health and dental insurance benefits.

Aside from about $168,000 in interest income, the Access Health CT budget comes from an assessment on the insurance industry.

In the beginning there were four health insurance companies participating in the exchange. Now it’s down to two: ConnectiCare Benefits and Anthem Health Plans Inc.

Lamont said he’s spoken with insurance industry executives and he thinks he can get more of them involved to create more competition.

He said he also wants to take advantage of the reinsurance program offered by the federal government. He said states that have taken advantage of it have reduced premiums. He wants to reduce premiums 20 percent.

In 2019, health insurance rates on the exchange are going up an average of 2.7 percent for about 109,000 individuals who participate in those plans. That’s a far cry from the average 27.7 to 31.7 percent increases approved by the Insurance Department for 2018.

Lamont said his Republican opponent would cut Medicaid and begin to roll back the fundamental protections the state adopted regardless of what happens with the Affordable Care Act.

Legislation that says insurance companies must cover certain conditions if the Affordable Care Act is overturned by the courts, or Congress eliminates it, was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support this year. The bill passed the House 114-32 and the Senate 34-2. Sens. John Kissel and Joe Markley were the only votes against it.

Markley is Republican Bob Stefanowski’s running mate. However, a spokesman for Stefanowski’s campaign said no one should read anything into that.

Stefanowski “opposes any efforts to remove coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Kendall Marr, Stefanowski’s spokesman, said.

Specifically the legislation passed requires coverage of the essential health benefits such as emergency care and hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, managing chronic diseases, and comprehensive coverage for children. It also requires some plan to provide preventative services for women, children and adolescents at no cost, but it doesn’t not require coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Lamont said the thing he hears about the most as he travels the state is the issue of pre-existing conditions. He said people want to know whether they will be covered.

Stefanowski said he has no plans to try roll back the new law.

“Connecticut is a state with unique challenges and strengths and we need a uniquely Connecticut solution to healthcare,” Stefanowski said Tuesday in a statement. “As governor, I will work with the legislature and the federal government to promote competition, increase choices, and drive down the cost of healthcare.”

During a debate at the University of Connecticut, the candidates were asked if the Affordable Care Act has benefited the people of Connecticut. Stefanowski’s answer was “no.”

Lamont said the ACA and expansion of Medicaid has benefited the people of Connecticut, and he added that reducing those benefits will just shift the costs, but not eliminate them.