Lawmakers on the Insurance and Real Estate Committee were divided over language creating a state-run health insurance option to compete with private insurance plans.
SB 842 seeks to piggyback off the Connecticut Partnership Plan currently run by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office for municipal employees. It would open the state-run plan up to small businesses and nonprofits, who struggle with the cost of health insurance in the current small group market.
“Not only are we in a health care crisis right now due to the global pandemic but we’re also in an insurance crisis,” Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said.
Lesser, co-chair of the committee, said the public option bill will help create competition in the insurance marketplace.
“Many small businesses are hanging on by a thread and this bill is a good-faith effort to try and address those issues, to make new affordable options available to nonprofits, small businesses and to Taft-Hartley labor unions,” Lesser said.
But Lesser’s co-chair Rep. Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill, didn’t feel there were enough protections in the bill.
“I don’t think that the language that is currently in the JFS goes far enough in providing the consumer protections and the protections to the state budget quite frankly,” Wood said.
Wood proposed an amendment that would require the state-run plan to follow the same rules as fully-insured insurance companies and it would require Auditors of Public Accounts to audit the program.
Wood said the audit language is not strong enough in the underlying bill, which is why she proposed the amendment.
“With these two changes in place, I think we would feel this is a fiscally responsible approach to a public option,” Wood said.
To the surprise of Lesser the amendment passed 10-8.
Lesser said the language in the underlying bill would require an independent actuarial firm to look at the state-run plan. He said if they passed Wood’s amendment and allowed it to be treated like other fully-insured health insurance plans it “would prevent all of the cost savings baked into the bill.”
Wood defended the amendment.
“This would ease our concerns about this affecting our state budget, and it would put in the consumer protections that many of our fully insured,” Wood said.
It would put in place regulations and policies that the committee helps create for the private insurance market.
“Once we start pulling plans out of the fully insured market into a public option we threaten the funding,” Wood said.
Lesser said he has concerns about the amendment, but voted in favor of the underlying bill.
“The bill before us is a good faith effort to tackle the price of health insurance in Connecticut, expand coverage and provide relief to small businesses,” Lesser said.
The bill passed 12 to 6 and now heads to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee for approval.
In a statement Lembo called Wood’s amendment “health care theater.”
“It does nothing to help consumers and is intended only to remove the parts of the underlying legislation that would expand access to care, create more insurance options that working people can actually use to stay healthy and address the long-standing racial inequality within the health care system,” Lembo said.
He said he’s working with legislative leaders to get back the original language in the bill.
“I spoke to Speaker Ritter after the vote and, while recognizing that the legislative process doesn’t always move in a straight line, he and I remain committed to using all the tools available to us in the original bill as we work together to make health care more affordable for the people of Connecticut,” Lembo said. “We have waited far too long to address the health care crisis in Connecticut. I look forward to the day when we enact the obvious changes that are desperately needed, and I am eager to work to bring that about.”
Gov. Ned Lamont said if the public option means the taxpayers have to underwrite the risk then he’s not in favor of the public option.
“If the option means we’re going to have a preferred network that incents people to go places where you have high value and less costs then let’s take a look at it,” Lamont said.