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There’s no time like a global public health crisis to talk about how messed up our health care system is, and how desperately we need reform. But not even the grim reality of a pandemic will be enough to break the hold the insurance industry has on the state Capitol.

Despite last year’s defeat, Democrats in the legislature and Comptroller Kevin Lembo are trying once again to pass a much-needed public option.

The plan, which got a hearing this past week, would open up the Connecticut Partnership insurance plan to small businesses, nonprofits, and unions. The Connecticut Partnership is already available to municipal and quasi-public agency employees, and is pooled with the state employee plan.

If expanded it would provide a much larger insurance pool that would theoretically be cheaper to run because the risk would be spread that much wider. It would also reduce one of the biggest barriers to running a small business or nonprofit in the state: providing health insurance for employees.

So this would reduce costs for consumers and grow the economy. It’s just opening up a plan, which already exists, to more people. Simple enough, right? Of course it isn’t.

a green buttton that says support and red button that says oppose

The health care system in this country is extraordinarily complicated, so much so that we need administrative workers to get specialized training just to be able to understand the labyrinth of insurance claims and Medicare reimbursement they deal with every day. That means whenever a single piece of it is changed, there will be all kinds of unintended effects felt throughout the system. That’s why the Connecticut Hospital Association testified that they are worried about reimbursement to hospitals falling and the Access Health CT insurance exchange being further destabilized.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), which also testified against the bill, is concerned about the exchanges and potential government subsidies to make the program run. But their real concern is the same old thing that sank the last public option bill: the insurance industry.

From the CBIA testimony:

“Instituting a public health program will undermine one of Connecticut’s largest economic drivers. Hartford, known as the “Insurance Capital of the World,” houses nearly 60,000 insurance industry jobs … A state-run program is another step closer to the single-payer model. Under the single-payer model, private competition is stifled and insurance companies will only operate as third-party professionals. The movement from a buy-in program to a single-payer system is something our state can not fiscally sustain from both an economic and insurance market standpoint.”

This, then, is the usual scare-mongering we’ve seen time and again. We can’t create a government-backed large insurance pool that would make coverage better and more affordable because it’s a slippery slope down to a single-payer system, which will destroy a major pillar of the state’s economy.

They’re not wrong. After all, if businesses join the public option and they find they like it, what’s to stop us from expanding those high-quality plans to everyone? And once that’s done, what’s to stop the state from negotiating directly with health care providers instead of using unaccountable, for-profit insurers as middlemen? It’s not likely, but it could happen.

Still, single-payer is a dream that seems generations away at this point. More troubling than some nebulous future insurance industry apocalypse is the potential for cutting into industry profits now.

The insurance industry has every reason to want to keep the system the way it is, because they don’t want the government competing with them in any way. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to protect their profits. That’s why last year, according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Cigna threatened to pull its headquarters out of the state if the public option passed.

So we’re faced once again with the choice between improving health coverage for the people of the state or doing what the insurance industry wants.

The choice should be easy. Lawmakers should choose the people, not insurance giants who profit off of the misery of others and have exported tens of thousands of jobs out of the state over the past few decades. The moral choice is clear.

I hope they have the stomach for it.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.