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CT public health option bill stumbles forward

May 3, 2019

HARTFORD — Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to use a parliamentary procedure to kill one of two public health insurance option bills Thursday in the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said he had “grave concerns about the bill as drafted.”

“And the message it sends to the employers a stones throw from here that could just as easily be somewhere else,” Miner said referring to Hartford’s insurance companies.

Miner sought to “box the bill,” but was ultimately ruled out of order by Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who said the motion was not properly before the committee.

The bill, which would allow state Comptroller Kevin Lembo to expand the state employees health insurance pool to small businesses, has been touted by supporters as a way to expand health insurance coverage to small businesses.

The ConnectHealth plan established by the legislation would be sold through the state comptrollers office to companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said these bills will give them one more option and hopefully increase competition in the small group market.

The Appropriations Committee on Tuesday already budgeted $1 million for Lembo to begin studying what it would take to get the product up and running through his office.

There is currently no money for subsidies at this point.

Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-East Granby, said she’s concerned the comptroller would be putting forward a plan “without the full backstop of the state legislature.”

Once Lembo finishes an actuarial study and figures out the plan design for the ConnectHealth Plan, he will take that to the Insurance and Real Estate Committee next year for approval.

Republicans argued it should go before the full legislature.

The plan currently does not include any subsidies for businesses, but that’s discussed as an option in the future.

The two bills approved Thursday by the Appropriations Committee are identical.

“I have been meeting with small businesses across the state and, everywhere I go, the message is the same: Small businesses are sick and tired of being unable to find or keep skilled workers, unable to compete with corporate benefit packages, facing double-digit increases in costs for overly complex and confusing health care coverage, unpredictable and unstable health care costs while they pay for nothing -high-deductible plans where employees never see $1 of benefit,”Lembo said Thursday. “Today’s action by the Appropriations Committee moves us closer to allowing my office to offer more affordable benefits to businesses so they can attract quality employees and provide reliable and affordable health care.”

But it’s still an uphill battle for proponents of the legislation.

Not all Democrats are sold on the proposal.

Rep. Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield, said he’s concerned the legislation will impact the bottomline of the insurance companies in his district.

Republicans pointed out that the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which covers municipal employees and is run by the comptroller, currently has claims that are outpacing premiums. That was also noted by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

The fiscal note says “as a self-insured pool, the state currently bears the risk for costs incurred in excess of plan premiums. The state does not currently have stop-loss insurance. To the extent claims are in excess of the premiums established, there will be a cost to the state.”

Lesser said the expectation is that the plan would be paid for by premiums and there would be safeguards in case claims did outpace premiums.

Lembo believes his office will be able to keep the costs low.

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