HARTFORD, CT — A bill that would allow for drugs to be imported from Canada, benchmark health costs, and require the state to apply for a reinsurance waiver has bipartisan support.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that lowering the cost of health insurance is important, but they are still divided when it comes to supporting a so-called public option. The state-run insurance option is part of another piece of legislation and would open the state employees health insurance plan to small businesses, nonprofits, and labor unions.
The Insurance and Real Estate Committee heard public testimony on both bills Thursday.
Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said they are doing as much as they can on a bipartisan basis even if it’s not everything.
Sen. Kevin Kelly, the ranking Republican member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said the bipartisan proposal to introduce benchmarking would be a big deal.
He said in Massachusetts benchmarking health costs has saved that state $5 billion between 2013 and 2018.
Kelly said they are also working to find $19.5 million to apply for a reinsurance waiver with the federal government, which would in turn help cover the highest claims and lower the costs of premiums for everyone 6 to 7.2%.
Kelly said they have yet to identify a steady revenue stream.
“We’re working on it as we speak,” Kelly said.
The state is currently facing a $63.3 million budget deficit and it has $2.5 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.
Over the past 15 years, healthcare costs have gone up 77%, Kelly said. That’s at the same time the average median income has only gone up about 21%.
The system is unsustainable and both political parties have acknowledged it.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said Connecticut voters don’t care what party is getting results on this “they just want to see results because they’re fed up with the high costs of their drugs, their health insurance plans and they just don’t see any end in sight.”
Scanlon said this bill shows Connecticut can make progress on this issue.
Kelly said he has concerns with the state-run public option because he’s concerned about whether the state can set rates high enough to cover the claims.
“How are the taxpayers protected? There isn’t oversight by the Department of Insurance and there’s no stop-loss,” Kelly said.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said they heard the same thing last year from those who opposed the idea.
He said they were told the “private market will take care of this.”
Fast forward 12 months and Lembo asked what has changed.
“It’s only gotten worse quite frankly, so the private market didn’t take care of it,” he said. “Yet we all went home, state senators, state reps, constitutional officers, state employees. We went home knowing we had excellent coverage to protect us in the event that something bad was going to happen.”
He said they need to ask people opposed to a public option why it’s fair for them to have excellent coverage while Connecticut residents are paying a lot of money for plans that don’t cover much.
“It’s not going away,” Lembo vowed.
Lesser said the bipartisan reforms won’t provide the immediate relief that Connecticut consumers are looking for.
“This bill will lower costs and offer people more choices,” Lesser said.
He said the insurance industry is opposed because it’s competition and they know it will work.