HARTFORD, CT — As part of this year’s Democratic proposal to expand access to health care for more people, Democratic lawmakers are looking to add an assessment to insurance companies to lower costs for low-income and undocumented residents.
In addition to creating a public option through state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office to compete with insurance companies and lower premiums, this year’s legislation would seek to raise millions to help undocumented residents afford health insurance and increase the subsidies those below 200% of the federal poverty level currently receive.
The plan will cost about $50 million, most of which the state expects insurance companies to pay.
Republican lawmakers are again pushing the idea of a federal reinsurance waiver which would leverage federal funding to pay for the highest-cost claims and lower health insurance costs for everyone else.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said during a press conference Monday that a reinsurance proposal would keep insurance jobs in Connecticut, be regulated by the Insurance Department, and be compliant with the Affordable Care Act. The public option pitched by the Democrats would not be regulated by the Insurance Department and would not need to be compatible with the ACA.
“I don’t get it, but then again I’m looking at it from the middle-class perspective,” Kelly said.
He said the number one issue when he knocks on doors is how to make health care more affordable.
“Health care premiums in Connecticut are way, way too expensive. They are crushing the middle-class family,” Kelly said. “Middle-class families were promised eight years ago by the Democrats that they would have affordable health care — that promise has not been delivered.”
Gov. Ned Lamont seems willing to still entertain a federal reinsurance waiver.
“Look, I think the reinsurance plan makes sense,” Lamont said Monday during his press briefing. “It’s a way that you can bring down health care costs on the exchange and beyond for everybody.”
He said, “If anybody’s backing away from that, we should sit down and talk and tell me why.”
Democratic lawmakers seem to have abandoned the idea. Lamont also seems supportive of their idea to levy an assessment on insurance companies.
“The administration is looking at an assessment, similar to the one that passed the House on a bipartisan vote in 2019, that will sustainably fund a program making health insurance more affordable for the working families of Connecticut,” Lamont’s Chief of Staff Paul Mounds told CTNewsJunkie. “The proposed bill tasks OHS [Office of Health Care Strategy] with developing a plan to do the most good within the limited resources available. That plan could include reinsurance, but is more likely to include support targeted at certain income brackets.”
Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said whether the insurance companies pass the assessment along to consumers will be their decision.
“That’s going to be a market decision,” Lesser said Monday.
Lesser said he’s changed his mind about reinsurance because it can adversely impact low- and moderate-income families, but he didn’t say how.
Low- and moderate-income families already receive federal subsidies if they are on an exchange plan. About 70% of the more than 100,000 Connecticut residents who purchase their insurance through the exchange receive a federal subsidy to offset the cost of their monthly premiums.
“There are some people that even with a subsidy their insurance is unaffordable,” Lesser said. “Their deductibles are just way too high.”
Susan Halpin, the lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said they appreciate that subsidies are not a bad thing, but punishing some people to help others is not what Connecticut should be doing.
“None of it addresses the underlying cost of care, which is the real problem. It just Band-Aids the issue,” Halpin said.
The Insurance and Real Estate Committee public hearing on SB 842 starts at 11 a.m. Tuesday.