ctnewsjunkie file photo
Sen. Matt Lesser (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Some are hoping the legislation that the Insurance and Real Estate Committee passed Tuesday will make Connecticut the first state in the nation to approve a public option.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said the legislation could be “historic.”

“Our hope here today is we do become the first state in the nation to pass a public option,” Scanlon said.

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One bill was forwarded to the Senate and the other was forwarded to the House.

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said the two public option bills the committee passed 11-8 Tuesday would expand the state employee health insurance pool to cover small businesses with fewer than 50 employees in its first year and possibly individuals and families in the future.

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Lesser said there will be no state subsidies available to help lower the cost of the insurance in the first year, but if that’s what the state wants to do in the future there’s language in the bill that would allow it.

“If in five years the Connecticut General Assembly is flush with revenues, we could deposit them in the ConnectHealth Trust account,” Lesser said.

But Lesser believes the cost savings will come from the increased competition in the marketplace.

The ConnectHealth plan established by the legislation would not be sold to small businesses through the insurance exchange. It would be sold through the state comptrollers office. Small businesses can currently purchase health insurance both on and off the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

Lesser said these bills will give them one more option.

The legislation does not anticipate offering these plans on the insurance exchange where they would be eligible for federal subsidies because the plans would not be “qualified health plans” as prescribed by the ACA. Lesser said the state could seek a waiver to allow the plan to be offered on the exchange and qualify for the subsidies, but he said that decision falls above his pay grade.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration would have to ask for the waiver.

Proponents of the legislation believe the plan will be competitive because it will be able to use the bargaining power of the 190,000 current plan participants.

“The scope of the bill is about creating extra competition — not funding possible future subsidies,” Lesser said.

As far as subsidies are concerned, the language requires the state Comptroller’s office to come back to the legislative committee for approval of any state subsidy proposal. Without the committee’s approval, the request will automatically be denied.

The plan, which would be designed by the state Comptroller Kevin Lembo if the legislation is approved this year, would be administered by a “third party administrator,” which could be an insurance company.

“The intent is to provide a competitive product in which risk is priced appropriately,” Lesser said.

He added that the intention is to make sure the plans are self-sustaining and paid for with premium dollars rather than taxpayer dollars.

There may be some one-time start-up costs, but Lesser estimated those would total under $1 million.

Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Shelton, said Congress did not fulfill the promises of the Affordable Care Act, but passing this legislation in Connecticut isn’t going to make insurance more affordable for Connecticut residents.

He said the public option bills don’t reduce the costs of health insurance.

He said the two bills are “just too risky,” and won’t deliver on their promises.