By Rep. Steve Fontana (D-North Haven) Co-Chairman of the Insurance & Real Estate Committee
Every month, hardworking people all over Connecticut lose their health insurance coverage when they lose their jobs, when their employers stop offering it, or when they can no longer afford to pay for it. Deciding whether and how to reform our healthcare system isn’t an academic debate for them, but a potential life or death situation.
The experience of a constituent of mine, Lisa, illustrates the healthcare problems that too many of us face. She suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, which, as pre-existing conditions, well might make her uninsurable if she weren’t already covered by her husband’s plan. Her brother recently lost his health insurance, along with his job, because he couldn’t afford his COBRA coverage. Several of Lisa’s relatives have never had any healthcare coverage, because they work for small businesses that do not provide insurance to their employees. Lisa is now concerned that something may happen to her husband or his job that may jeopardize their health insurance.
Lisa, her family, and hundreds of thousands of others cannot afford to wait any longer for healthcare reform. They deserve a quality, affordable healthcare plan.
Thankfully, we’ve found a way to provide Connecticut residents with a quality, affordable health insurance choice that begins to control costs. Every year the state uses the bargaining power of our large, stable employee group to negotiate favorable healthcare rates. We propose leveraging this pool to create a Healthcare Partnership. The Partnership is a voluntary health plan option that allows the employees of towns, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses to join the state employee plan.
This Partnership is a “win-win-win” that benefits state taxpayers, our towns, and small businesses.
By self-insuring our state plan as we did before 1997, we will yield a one-time savings of $70 million, and ongoing savings of $10 million to $20 million per year for the state.
Providing towns with a competitive choice for employee health insurance will reduce budget costs for most Connecticut towns. Many states already allow municipal employees to join their state plans, and, according to the Connecticut Education Association, 85% of Connecticut towns could reduce health insurance costs for their teachers by joining the state plan.
Small businesses and non-profit organizations will save money that they can use to invest in their businesses and attract good employees by providing them with competitive healthcare choices.
Allowing towns, nonprofits, and small businesses to buy their healthcare through a public health plan option enjoys widespread support. David Osborne, a nationally-recognized expert on improving government performance whom Governor Rell brought to Connecticut this past winter, favors approaches like the Partnership because states can use their administrative flexibility and bargaining power to negotiate better prices. Connecticut groups representing realtors, doctors, educators, small businesses, and senior citizens all endorse it. Recent polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times demonstrate that the public broadly supports a voluntary public option like the Partnership.
In addition, we can compound the prospective success of the Partnership by enacting an other initiative to lay the foundation for further healthcare system improvements. The SustiNet plan, developed to integrate our state efforts with reforms being discussed in Congress, will assure that we continue to lead the nation by extending quality health coverage to more residents, containing costs, and promoting preventive care.
The people of Connecticut want access to a public option that provides quality, affordable healthcare – the same great health plan available to more than 200,000 state employees, dependents, retirees, legislators like me, and even Governor Rell.
The General Assembly passed these two initiatives by wide margins. All we need is Governor Rell’s signature to make them state law.
While Governor Rell may be hearing the self-serving objections of naysayers and special interests, I hope she is also hearing from the tens of thousands of ordinary Connecticut citizens who desperately want and need her to support these solutions.
In the past, the Governor has risen to the occasion when circumstances demand it. I urge her to take up the mantle of leadership on healthcare reform at this critical juncture by signing both bills into law.