New Haven Independent /photo
Rep. Sean Scanlon (New Haven Independent /photo)

Sean Scanlon and his colleagues in Connecticut couldn’t do in one year what it took federal politicians a half-century to do.

So they will try to do it in two.

“It” is the effort to pass health care reform that makes insurance affordable to many more people, especially employees of small businesses and self-employed people.

Scanlon (pictured above at the state Capitol), state representative from the Branford/Guilford 98th General Assembly District, tried to do that this year through a bill to create “public option” insurance plans in Connecticut. Health care reformers like the Universal Health Care Foundation helped put out the call. In the end, the idea didn’t come up for a full vote. Insurance industry lobbyists killed it.

“It took seven presidents” starting with Harry Truman to pass what eventually became the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare), Scanlon noted during an apperance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

“We tried to do it in one year. Big change takes time.”

Scanlon co-chairs the state legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, through which the proposal needs first approval before advancing to full House and Senate votes.

He and co-chair Sen. Matt Lesser met before this year’s session began at Cafe 56 in Middletown to discuss the issue. “Let’s go big,” they decided. “Let’s get a public option passed.”

Their original bill called for the creation of a state-run lower-cost insurance plan available for businesses with under 50 employees. Individuals would be able to buy insurance under this public option plan in the second year.

After blowback from the business lobby Scanlon amended the proposal. The next version would have allowed any small business to participate. And the law would guarantee that public option plan premiums would cost less than those in the private market. The plans would not replace private insurance plans, only offer an alternative for people who can’t afford them.

They would be the country’s first state-run public options. This amended version failed as well.

But Lesser said he’s convinced that small businesses and grassroots people want to see this pass.

“The system is fundamentally broken,” he said.

He said proponents have to start organizing earlier, and more effectively. He urged people to follow developments on this website and urge their state legislators to support the plan next year.

Hundreds of thousands of people would gain health insurance they can afford under a Connecticut public option, Scanlon said. That potential pool could grow much larger if the Trump administration succeeds in getting the courts to strike down Obamacare. In that case, Scanlon estimated, 500,000 non-elderly adults with preexisting conditions will lose their insurance in Connecticut, along with 200,000 people added to the Medicaid rolls under an ACA federally funded expansion.

Click on the Facebook Live video link to watch Scanlon’s appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven,” during which he also discussed the possible expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport and the prospects for instituting electronic tolls on state highways.