The death of the “Connecticut Option” last week was sad but predictable. Once again, insurance companies killed off health care reform in what used to be the Insurance Capital of the World.
The Connecticut Option was a small but meaningful step toward real universal health care. It would have required any insurer selling plans on Access Health CT, our Obamacare exchange, to also sell a less expensive, state-structured plan to individuals. It doesn’t sound particularly offensive, especially because the individual insurance market in Connecticut is small.
But the deal was torpedoed by the insurance companies anyway. The Connecticut Option has been stripped from the health care bill, and it’s not likely to return until next year at the very least.
Why did the insurance companies have so much power over this bill?
To give you an idea of just how badly this bill spooked them, Comptroller Kevin Lembo reported to the Hartford Courant that Cigna CEO David Cordiani was threatening to pull Cigna out of the state if the bill was approved. Cigna denies it, of course, but if there’s any truth to what Lembo says, then we’re all being held hostage by an insurance company.
It couldn’t have been just this bill that Cigna had an issue with, either. Cigna had very little skin in this specific game. The bill would have put out to bid a pool for individuals and small businesses, an area in which Cigna, which had over a billion dollars in profit last year, has very few Connecticut customers. No, it’s the very idea of public options for health care that frightens them. Remember, in 2009 a public option could have been part of Obamacare, but was blocked by Sen. Joe Lieberman. The speculation at the time was that his vote had been bought by these same insurance giants.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the price of universal health care in this state and in this country is sending those health insurance companies who can’t adapt to the bottom of the sea, I’m fine with that.
I know it would be an economic nuclear bomb for us here in Connecticut, and I know that Hartford would suffer. But I’m also sick and tired of us being at the mercy of companies that don’t care about Connecticut.
Oh my goodness, why would I say such a terrible thing? Of course Mother Aetna loves us, even though she tried to bolt for New York City before being bought by Providence-based CVS a few years back.
Aetna also wanted the proposed merger with Humana, which would have kept the headquarters in Hartford but, curiously, would have grown the workforce in Humana’s home of Louisville.
And let’s not even mention all the layoffs.
In 1990, insurance employment in the state peaked at over 83,000. By 1999, that number had been slashed to 71,500, a shocking loss that played a crucial factor in the state’s dizzying economic downfall during that decade. The numbers kept dropping after that. In 2002 there were 68,000 insurance jobs, but by 2009 the tally was down to 64,000. It is now hovering around 60,000, according to the latest industry figures.
That is a loss of 23,000 jobs over the past three decades. Where did those jobs go? Some migrated south and west. Some went overseas. Others were merely redundant, casualties of a changing industry and struggling companies.
The days of insurance giants with roots in the city and CEOs who both loved and rooted for Hartford are long, long gone. They’ve been replaced by mercenaries with no ties to the region, restless leaders who yearn for the lights of bigger cities, or by faceless corporate overlords in some far-off place.
So why are they at the table?
The Connecticut Option had flaws, but it was a step in the right direction. It was intended to make it possible and affordable for individuals and small businesses to get health coverage. The point was not for insurance carriers to feel at ease or to make more money, but to provide people who need it with a basic human right.
So next time the bill comes up — and it will— the insurance companies should not be welcome. It’s time they learned that in Connecticut, their profits don’t come before people.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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