As the end of the legislative session nears, the finger-pointing has begun over legislation that would create a state-run health insurance option with proponents saying it won’t advance.
The bill promoted by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo would have allowed his office to create a state-run option for small businesses and nonprofits that would compete with health insurance plans currently offered by the industry.
Depending on whom you talk to, the legislation is on life support – either because there wasn’t enough support in the General Assembly or because Gov. Ned Lamont wouldn’t publicly say he supported it.
“I am disappointed that Governor Lamont has denied affordable health care options to small businesses and nonprofits despite the obvious need and overwhelming support from the public,” Lembo said Friday. “This is a missed opportunity that will have real-life consequences for the small employers in our state that have been pleading for help after taking a massive economic hit from the pandemic. To cast them aside is both a terrible message to send and a severe economic miscalculation.”
Lembo credited the health insurance industry for their lobbying and advertising efforts against the legislation as one of the reasons for its impending death.
“The people of Connecticut should find that unacceptable. They should also be very concerned that it worked,” Lembo added.
The insinuation made both the administration and the legislature bristle.
“The governor and legislature agree health care is a human right that too many Connecticut families struggle to afford,” Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said. “The governor is confident we can work across branches and across the aisle to lower the cost of prescription drugs, take full advantage of transformative federal investments, and make coverage more affordable and attainable for as many as residents as possible.“
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said there are still plenty of ways to lower the cost of health insurance and the public option was just one of those ways.
Looney insisted his caucus had the votes to pass the measure, but said there were indications from the governor’s staff that Lamont was not going to support it.
“We are all supportive of the goal we have of premium assistance, co-pay assistance and lowering deductibles,” Looney said.
He said the governor and the legislature plan to move forward with those other means of lowering the cost of health insurance.
Republicans applauded the death of the public option, but raised concern about health insurance reform moving forward.
“Connecticut residents deserve quality health care that is affordable and accessible. A government run ‘public option’ does not achieve that goal,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly and Sen. Tony Hwang, ranking Republican on the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said in a statement.
They said the Democrats refused to pass their proposals out of committee and now it’s too late.
“Year after year we see Democrat inaction on making health care affordable. If Democrats really believe health care is a priority, our plan is the way forward. Let’s put it to work,” Kelly and Hwang said.
Looney said that although the American Rescue Plan provides monthly premium assistance to those with plans through Access Health CT, that $85 million runs out in two years.
“We can’t have blinders on about what happens after the biennium,” Looney said. “It’s important to find a way to permanently help those who now are struggling.”