HARTFORD, CT – The proposal to allow small businesses to join a state-run health insurance plan may have flatlined last year, but Democratic lawmakers and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo aren’t giving up on the idea.
The revamped proposal would allow small businesses, nonprofits, and labor unions to join the state-run Connecticut Partnership plan, which already includes municipalities and boards of education as members.
The plans, according to the legislation, would be sold and underwritten through state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office.
A similar proposal was defeated last year by the insurance industry, which will again oppose the measure.
“How much longer can we explain to the rest of Connecticut that we are okay with enjoying our highest-quality health care, but unwilling to even allow them to buy into that same coverage – or ensure quality affordable choices?” Lembo said.
He said it’s time small businesses, which are often described as the economic engine of the state, are given the same opportunities public officials have to buy high-quality, affordable health care.
The legislation also seeks to open up the Husky dental program and would expand the options available to individuals on the exchange.
“The state would be underwriting and making actuarial assumptions and pooling risk,” Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said Wednesday.
Lesser and Lembo said the pricing for the plans would be competitive because there’s no profit motive or high-paid executives to compensate.
But opponents say if the plan is not priced appropriately then Connecticut’s taxpayers will be on the hook if the claims outpace the premiums.
JP Wieske, executive director of the Health Benefits Institute, said there is always the risk of high claims.
“If rates aren’t set by a qualified actuary then the state will be left holding the bag,” Wieske said Wednesday.
Wieske also pointed out that the plans won’t have to be sold on the exchange or through insurance brokers.
Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he doesn’t believe there’s any real oversight over a government-run program. He said that unlike plans offered by private insurance companies, these plans won’t be regulated by the Insurance Department.
Lembo pointed out that the same could be said for large employers who self-insure and pay their own claims, which is the bulk of the plans in Connecticut.
Only about one-third of insurance plans sold in Connecticut are regulated by the Insurance Department.
Lembo said the Connecticut Plan would have more oversight, transparency, and regulation than for-profit insurance companies.
He said it’s about time that small businesses start asking their lawmakers why lawmakers don’t want them to have access to the same plan they have.
Kelly said legislation to import lower-cost drugs from Canada, benchmark the cost of procedures in the state, and a federal reinsurance program will do more to lower costs to consumers.
He said creating another option won’t drive down the underlying costs of healthcare in the state.
Lembo maintains that creating a state-run public option will “completely change the balance sheet of these businesses,” and won’t impact the insurance industry in the state.
The public option language was stripped from last year’s bill after Lembo walked into a Hartford Courant editorial board meeting on May 29, 2019, and told the newspaper that the deal for a state-run health insurance pool unraveled after Cigna’s CEO, David Cordani, threatened to move his company out of Connecticut if the legislation was approved.
A spokesman for Cigna denied any such threat, but by then awmakers were afraid to move forward with a proposal that would impact one of the state’s most prominent industries.
Susan Halpin, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, reiterated the sentiment Wednesday.
“Our position is the same. We don’t believe state government should be competing with one of its major economic sectors and we don’t believe the plan as outlined would be sustainable,” Halpin said.
A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said the governor is still reviewing the bill. However, Lamont said in a podcast recently that he wouldn’t support a public option.
Lembo said he’s confident that with the right information that the governor will find a way to be in favor of the legislation.
Last year, Lamont joined lawmakers for a press conference announcing the public option. But he won’t be attending Thursday’s press conference.
The public hearing on the legislation will begin at 11 a.m. in Room 2D of the Legislative Office Building.