I’ve long been a critic of our state’s inaction on controlling healthcare costs, but I may have to eat my words. Healthcare spending grew 6% last year, well above the 4.2% general US inflation rate. Last year, over half of Connecticut residents had trouble affording healthcare and even more were worried they won’t be able to afford it in the future. But on Wednesday, Connecticut policymakers took a big step toward controlling the two biggest drivers of rising healthcare costs – hospital and prescription drug prices.
HB 6669, the Governor’s omnibus healthcare bill, passed in the last hour of the session and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk. When it becomes law, it will take a bite out of monopoly hospital systems and prescription drug prices for care. It’s not a silver bullet, but it will make a serious dent in our healthcare costs.
The bill’s journey was not linear. It was heavily lobbied, and it stalled several times. It started as two bills in two different committees. Part of it was included in a bill that died in the House last year after passing out of the Senate with overwhelming support. But this year the Insurance and Public Health Committees, together with the Office of Health Strategy and the Office of Policy and Management, kept up the pressure and persevered. Policymakers worked with the hospitals and insurers for months to find a compromise that neither group loved, but both could live with. I am very proud of my state today.
So, after all that build-up, what does the bill do?
My favorite part of the bill restores competition in the healthcare market. Right now, big health systems can use their monopoly power in one area of the state to name their own prices across Connecticut. They can also use their market power to get preferred placement on insurance tiers, for higher quality and better cost, that they haven’t earned. The bill prohibits these anti-competitive practices. The great thing about tiered plans is that the savings don’t just go back to insurers, they are shared with patients who pay lower costs for better care. Even better, the bill requires insurers to publicly disclose the quality and price standards for tiers, so we can see if it’s really about quality, or just about costs.
Other parts of the bill will start to unravel drug companies’ ability to overcharge us for medications. Connecticut will join other states to boost our negotiating power to get better drug prices for all state residents. The legislation also requires drug companies to register the drug reps who visit doctors’ offices to push their company’s medications. The bill includes other provisions to lower costs such as notifying doctors when less expensive generic medications become available for their patients, identifying the 10 most costly drugs for Connecticut residents, and examining a federal program that gives health facilities significant discounts on drugs to make sure the savings are used to improve care for underserved patients.
Healthcare costs are out of control for a lot of reasons and the causes have been piling up for decades. Making care affordable will require a lot of uncomfortable changes for powerful industries over many years. This bill starts Connecticut on that important journey. I’m going to rest in this happy place for a while.
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