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ELLEN ANDREWS

This year, Connecticut candidates running for office during a global pandemic and a harsh recession had thoughtful, well-informed answers to CTNewsJunkie‘s tough healthcare questions. One said, “The impact of the pandemic has brought the need for affordable health care into even sharper focus. Many people lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs . . . No matter what happens with Trump, states will be the next line of defense when it comes to protecting care for people.”

Another stated, “This issue was my primary motivation for running for office.”

Forty-six candidates for state legislative and Congressional seats gave a total of 53 responses to three questions. Far more Democrats than Republicans responded. Independent and third-party candidates were well-represented.

How can Connecticut lower healthcare costs while also improving quality and access to care?

For big-picture reform, candidates either favored a public insurance option or a single payer, Medicare for All plan. A public option, sponsored by government to compete with private plans, would foster competition in Connecticut’s consolidated health insurance marketplace, and give consumers another choice. Medicare for All would provide government-sponsored coverage for everyone. Some candidates suggested that a public option could serve as a step toward a universal coverage plan.

Democrats were more likely to propose a public option and public option proponents were more likely to win their races. Universal coverage proponents were evenly split between Democrats and independent candidates; they were less likely to have won their races.

Several noted that the United States has the most expensive healthcare system in the world but rates far behind other economically developed nations on health outcomes. One noted, “Thirty-two other countries currently enjoy universal healthcare, including all the other major nations on Earth, but not the United States.”

The most common target for savings was pharmacy prices that aren’t affordable for consumers, plans or employers. Ideas to save included capping prices, bulk purchasing, and importing drugs from Canada.

Several blamed Connecticut’s consolidated provider market for high prices. One said, “We need to increase competition between service providers and enable competitive market-based healthcare services . . . Competition is the single greatest thing government can enable to benefit consumers. Currently, there is too little competition and not enough providers . . . Consumers need choice, and right now they don’t have much.”

On addressing the COVID pandemic and helping the health system cope

Making telehealth options permanent was the most common system improvement suggestion. Telehealth had a small role in Connecticut’s and the nation’s healthcare before the pandemic and was struggling to make headway. The pandemic changed that quickly, allowing patients to safely access care delayed early in the pandemic. While providers hurried to set up telehealth without preparation, most patients and providers expect it to remain an important option after the pandemic ends.

Many candidates cited the need to prioritize prevention and support healthy lifestyles. One felt that “Prevention is key to keeping people healthy. We must promote healthy eating, exercise . . . It begins with creating healthy habits among our children so they will become healthy adults. Healthcare costs can be lowered if we strive to be healthier and promote healthy living.” Some wanted free programs for healthy eating and exercise. Others wanted to support employers in promoting wellness.

ellen andrews / ct health policy project / ctnewsjunkie
Above are the terms mentioned by candidates who responded to health care questions at Vote.CTNewsJunkie.com before the November election (ellen andrews / ct health policy project / ctnewsjunkie)

COVID-19 and the resulting recession have increased the number of people who qualify for Medicaid just when state revenues are dropping. Will you support more relief for state Medicaid programs to continue coverage levels and ensure access to providers?

Every candidate that answered this question said “Yes.” One said, “Yes, it’s an absolute necessity.” Another offered that, “The expansion of Medicaid has been lifesaving for millions of Americans. That was true prior to the pandemic for the elderly who need coverage for long-term care, children and adults with disabilities, those with substance-use disorders, and those working multiple part-time jobs without the option for healthcare. The health and economic crisis we face today has only further highlighted the need for universal healthcare.”

Four wanted to increase the federal Medicaid matching rate to help the state cover the thousands of people losing jobs and employer-sponsored insurance. To ensure access to care, another wants to increase provider payment rates to Medicare levels. One wants to reduce military spending and devote the funds to healthcare, including Medicaid.

Healthcare and its growing costs were a top priority for candidates in Connecticut this year. They have clear ideas about how to translate the momentum into progress to make care affordable for everyone.



Ellen Andrews, PhD, is the executive director of the CT Health Policy Project. Follow her on Twitter @CTHealthNotes.

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