Credit: Christine Stuart File Photo / CTNewsJunkie

The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee overwhelmingly voted Thursday to send a bill that creates a state-run public option health insurance plan to the Senate. 

Despite a letter in opposition from insurance executives last week, lawmakers voted 31-17, largely along party lines, to advance the legislation passed last month by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. 

The Insurance and Real Estate Committee revised the bill to guarantee that the public option plan run by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo would fall under the auspices of the Insurance Department. However, Lembo says that revision is unacceptable and was hoping lawmakers would remove the language in the committee process. That didn’t happen Thursday. 

“Despite enormous outside pressure, legislators took a key step to advance health care legislation today,” Lembo said. “Although the current language remains unacceptable and insufficient to address the health care affordability crisis in Connecticut, today’s vote will allow negotiations to continue.”

The legislation now heads to the Senate where it could be negotiated further. 

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A public option health insurance plan would allow small businesses and nonprofits purchase health insurance through the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which already covers municipal and school employees. The idea is that it would compete with private carriers and lower costs for everyone who purchases insurance. However, there’s a concern that if premiums don’t cover claims then taxpayers would be on the hook. This year’s bill includes stop-gap insurance and requires the plan to report to the Insurance Department. 

The biggest obstacle may be Gov. Ned Lamont. 

“I got to see what was voted out but I think people have heard my concerns in the past that, A, I don’t want the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut underwriting all the risk on this,” Lamont said Thursday. “That makes no sense to me. And, B, I think any bill has got to play by the same rules as the other health insurance plans out there as regulated by our insurance commission.”

Susan Halpin, head of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said Lembo’s plan “lays a path to single-payer and we remain adamantly opposed. That said, the fact that Finance maintained the bipartisan amendment subjecting the Comptroller to insurance rules and audit functions demonstrates that there remains widespread concern about proceeding with his proposal.”

Rep. Tammie Nuccio, R-Tolland, said her problem with the legislation is that it “will do nothing to the cost of health care.” 

The competition the public option creates is supposed to lower costs, but opponents, including the industry, have doubts. 

“The state of Connecticut has not been successful in the Partnership Plan,“ Nuccio said. 

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who has been the main sponsor of the bill over the past three years, said he disagrees with the statement Nuccio made, but didn’t want to get into the argument Thursday which was focused on the revenues. 

“For me I still think there is a really valid reason for why we should be doing this,” Scanlon said. 

He said that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t solve the health insurance affordability crisis in Connecticut.