Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Gov. Ned Lamont (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The Senate’s inability to pass a health reform bill that would help small businesses lower the cost of health insurance was “not a success” Gov. Ned Lamont admitted Thursday, but he said he’ll keep working on it.

The bill that Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders had pinned their hopes upon passed the House on Monday, but never got raised for a vote in the Senate.

“I was disappointed,” Lamont said.

He said that as a former small business owner he was paying a lot more in health insurance costs for his employees than the big guys he was competing against. He said small business is the engine of economic growth and they want to bring down the costs, but they started the discussions about the bill much too late.

He said even the “skinnied-up bill” would have been beneficial. It included federal waivers for reinsurance, which would allow the federal government to cover the costs of some of the most expensive claims; a measure to allow Connecticut to import drugs from Canada, which would require federal approval; and it would have created a “cost containment commission” to monitor price changes by health care providers in an effort to keep prices low.

He blamed opponents of the legislation for threatening to talk it to death. At the same time, he admitted they should have started this conversation much sooner.

“I don’t think we tried to do too much, but we tried to do it too late,” Lamont said. “It’s a big important reform and you want to get it right.”

The deal for a state-run health insurance pool unraveled on May 29 when state Comptroller Kevin Lembo walked into a Hartford Courant editorial board meeting and told the newspaper that Cigna’s CEO, David Cordani, had threatened to move his company out of Connecticut if the legislation was approved.

A spokesman for Cigna denied any such threat.

“The only option this proposal gives to the public is to pay more to get less from the health care system,” Brian Henry, a Cigna spokesman, said. “This option does not work for the public, for the state, or for the private sector.”

Lamont said given more time they might have been able to reach a deal.

Why was Cigna even at the negotiating table when it didn’t have any Connecticut customers in 2019 in the individual or small group marketplace that would have been impacted by the legislation?

Lamont said everybody deserves a seat at the table.

“I want the very best ideas so that we can come up with the very best solution,” Lamont said.

Lamont called Cordani a “good Connecticut citizen” who deserves a seat at the table like the advocates and small businesses.

Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said they worked hard to pass a bold public option this session but their efforts “were blocked at every turn by vested interests who prefer the status quo to offering residents access to quality, affordable health care choices.”

She said the goal was to offer meaningful relief to small businesses and the 500,000 people who work for them.

“The insurance lobby threw its weight around and won — facing meaningful competition was just too much for them,” Padilla said.

“Despite removal of the public option, important reforms to help tackle costs and expand coverage remained: allowing importation of prescription drugs from Canada; and establishing a new process for limiting cost increases by hospitals and other industry players. These measures would have made a real difference for many,” Padilla added. “But they, too, fell victim to powerful interests.”

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Republicans like the idea of a reinsurance waiver, but the Democrats wanted to fund it with a tax on premiums.

He said his caucus couldn’t understand how premiums were going to go down on one hand if you’re taxing them on the other hand. He said his caucus also was concerned about the amount of power being given to the Office of Health Strategy.

However, now that Republicans seem to have a seat at the table in these discussions moving forward he’s hopeful next year something will get done.