Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, spoke for hours Tuesday during an Insurance and Real Estate Committee meeting about his opposition to a bill that would allow the state to offer Association Health Plans.
These are plans that are a type of group medical insurance for employers that allows smaller companies and associations like chambers of commerce or nonprofits to access the health insurance savings associated with large group medical coverage.
Lesser claims the plans, which involve underwriting that’s no longer present associated with the Affordable Care Act, would allow for the plans to discriminate against older workers or even women. He said they aren’t really health insurance, even though the plans are regulated by the Department of Insurance.
Rep. Kerry Wood, co-chair of the committee, said these plans would increase competition in the health care marketplace because they would offer an alternative for smaller employers, who have not fully embraced Access Health CT– Connecticut’s health insurance exchange.
Those who support the legislation say it will result in expanding the ability of small businesses in the state to offer competitive benefits for employees who might otherwise be forced to find their own insurance plans through the ACA healthcare exchanges. Those opposed are concerned employers who belong to an association health plan will find their premiums increased when they have sick or otherwise high-cost employees.
Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle testified that “Concentrating the risk back on these employers will have the effect of driving them out of the association health plan and back onto the open market.” A point Lesser tried to make Tuesday.
“By removing all of those underwriting restrictions we are allowing discrimination on the basis of age, on the basis of race, on the basis of zip code, on the basis of disability status,” Lesser said. “Hopefully they don’t avail themselves of those options because those underwriting criteria are not here.”
Clearly frustrated with the questions from her own party and the former Senate co-chair of the committee, Wood kept her answers as short as possible.
“As I said, it’s providing additional options in this space,” Wood said.
Ranking Republicans on the committee also expressed frustration.
“Sen. Lesser’s maneuverings and delays in the committee today speaks volumes about his misplaced priorities,” Sen. Tony Hwang and Rep. Cara Pavlock-D’Amato said. “This legislation could provide a transformational benefit for Connecticut small businesses and their employees. This legislation has received broad based and bipartisan – and bicameral – support from all who agree that the cost of health care for middle-class Connecticut families is anything but affordable. What we saw today from Sen. Lesser was unfortunate and disappointing to anyone who wants to create a more affordable Connecticut.”
More than 37 organizations spoke in favor of the legislation. Bruce Adams, president of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, testified that association health plans would open up more affordable options for many organizations. He said it would help their organization get a better rate on their health insurance.
This year rates in the small group market, including those on the exchange, increased by double digitis.
Lesser said he received a call from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office during one of the recesses the committee took and was assured they would negotiate the bill to alleviate some of his concerns.
Lesser and Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, voted against the bill, which received enough support to head to the House.