Gov. Ned Lamont still wouldn’t say Tuesday whether he supports a public option like the one proposed by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, and which was modified by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee a week ago.
Lamont, who two years ago stood at a press conference with Lembo and endorsed a state-run program managed by the comptroller, has been reluctant now to bless it. He said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as the bill goes through the legislative process.
“I’m pretty reluctant to have taxpayers underwrite any of the risk here,” Lamont said. “And what I’m really trying to focus on is the underlying cost of health care.”
There had been concern that as the public option was originally written, premiums might not cover the claims and taxpayers would end up paying the difference. However, this year’s legislation includes the ability to purchase stop-gap insurance to protect taxpayers from risk, and changes were made in the committee process that would require the comptroller’s plan to follow the same rules as insurance companies.
“My big emphasis, as you know, is expanding accessibility and we’re doing that with a lot of federal support over the exchange,” Lamont said. “Looking at underlying costs we’ve talked about. I think that’s how you really drive fundamental reform over the long term.”
When it comes to lowering the cost of health insurance, Lamont has a different plan.
Lamont has proposed legislation to impose a $50 million assessment on commercial insurance plans to help lower premiums for lower-income enrollees who buy their insurance through Access Health CT.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have rallied behind another bill that would impose a $50 million assessment, create a public option for small businesses, and allow undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance – an option they currently don’t have.
Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who co-chairs the insurance committee, refused to negotiate the two pieces of legislation at a virtual press conference with the governor Tuesday.
“We are in a health care crisis as you all know. We are in a health insurance crisis. We are in a health equity crisis,” Lesser said.
He said the goal is to reduce costs and expand access to health care and the state is receiving a lot of federal help to get that done.
“The American Rescue Plan is the biggest improvement to health care – to health insurance – since the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” Lesser said.
The American Rescue Plan changes the monthly premium subsidies available under the ACA and increases them for people who are already eligible. It also provides assistance for those who may have had incomes previously too high to qualify.
Lamont said the subsidies mean “dramatic reductions in cost, up to $6,000 per year, in terms of what they have to pay for insurance. That’s a big deal.”
“There are huge gaps in our existing health care market,” Rep. Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill, said. “Many of the bills that came out of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee this session are addressing that.”
The bill backed by the Senate Democratic caucus is headed to the Senate and Lamont’s bill is headed to the House.