Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Jahana Hayes, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer discuss healthcare issues with Connecticut residents (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

FARMINGTON, CT — A Maryland Congressman told a group of Connecticut residents last week that public opinion of the Affordable Care Act is changing.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has been in Congress since 1966, said 2010 — a year after the Affordable Care Act was passed — “was the angriest election in which I’ve been involved. “

He said the public thought “we were taking something away from them and they would pay more for what they were getting.”

Hoyer said the ACA was “underwater” right up until November 2016. He said people started looking at “what am I getting and what will I lose.” He said hopefully they’re going to send people to Congress who are willing to make sure it works for everybody.

“The American public has come to the conclusion we need to fix this and make it work for us,” Hoyer said.

Consumers weren’t able to purchase insurance as a result of the ACA until 2013 and those plans didn’t go into effect until 2014. After hundreds of attempts to repeal the legislation, and four years of plans being offered for purchase it seems things are beginning to change.

A Morning Consult and Politico poll released in September found 81 percent of voters think it should be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Hoyer doesn’t believe the Affordable Care Act is perfect, but they’ve been unable to fix it under a Republican majority.

Jahana Hayes, the Democratic nominee in the 5th Congressional District, invited Hoyer to the University of Connecticut Health Center to discuss the issue of healthcare.

Hayes said Hoyer offered to do a fundraiser for her, but she opted to hold the roundtable discussion instead.

Hayes asked for help understanding comments from her Republican opponent, former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos, about former President Barack Obama’s statement that “If you like your health care, you can keep it.”

The statement proved to be false. Under the ACA if the plan didn’t cover certain essential benefits or didn’t exist before 2010 then it could not be grandfathered in.

Hoyer said Obama could have done a better job explaining it, but the reason those minimum standards existed was so that people couldn’t buy “junk policies.”

During their first debate, Santos said Obamacare should be repealed.

“The Affordable Care Act is a failure,’’ Santos said. “We were not able to keep our doctor and [healthcare] has not become more affordable.”

Hoyer said they’ve been looking to fix some of the problems with the ACA since 2011 but control of the House and the Senate have been in the hands “of those who want to repeal it.”

Where the candidates stand healthcare is the second most important thing voters want to know about, according to a September Kaiser Health Tracking poll. The first was corruption in Washington.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said healthcare costs is one of the top two or three topics he hears about on the campaign trail.

Lembo, who purchases health insurance for state employees and retirees, said the state is proving that by bringing people closer to care and treating their chronic conditions they are lowering costs and improving health outcomes.

He said Connecticut’s medical trend grows about 5 percent each year, which is much lower than the medical trend in the private sector at large employers. Lembo said his colleagues in the private sector are seeing medical trends, which is the cost of medical care, increasing about 15 percent per year.

He said they need a partner in Washington that will allow the state to continue to innovate with ways to keep costs down, especially in the area of pharmaceuticals.

Connecticut was the first state in 2010 under former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to take advantage of Medicaid expansion. It’s also one of 14 states to set up its own health insurance exchange.

There are two private insurance companies participating in Connecticut’s exchange. They are still regulated by the Insurance Department, which approves the rate increases.

There are more than 100,000 people who purchase plans in the individual market. Most of Connecticut or 86 percent of the population is still covered by plans offered through their employers.

Hoyer said they may not have an ACA plan, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit from provisions that were part of the ACA.

Provisions such as no lifetime caps on insurance coverage and the inability to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions are just two of the benefits everyone has received as a result of the law.

Connecticut passed a law earlier this year that requires plans to cover certain essential health benefits, but they didn’t pass legislation that required coverage of everyone regardless of their medical condition.

Changes made by the Trump administration have impacted insurance rates offered through Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance exchange. But the impact was much bigger for 2018 plans than it will be for 2019 plans.

Anthem Health Plans had proposed a 9.1 percent rate increase for their 2019 plans. The department opted instead for a 2.7 percent premium reduction. ConnectiCare’s average rate increase was dropped from 13 percent to 4 percent.

Last year the Insurance Department approved average rate increases of 31.7 percent and 27.7 percent.

That was mostly due to the federal government’s decision to eliminate the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers.

The two insurance carriers received about $50 million a year in CSRs for 46,000 of the 98,000 exchange customers. About 25 percent of the 98,000 exchange customers receive advanced premium tax credits and 25 percent receive no financial assistance.

“While the federal government officially removed the individual mandate penalty for 2019, the Department and carriers accounted for this in the 2018 rates,” Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade has said.