Healthcare Standards

Comptroller Lembo says public option healthcare plan is “transitional” ahead of Tuesday hearing

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo pitched his bill to create a public option healthcare plan in a video conference hosted by the Working Families Party on February 3, saying he saw the bill as “transitional” toward a single-payer healthcare system.

Joined by State Representatives Katie Farrar, D-West Hartford, and Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, Lembo said Senate Bill 842 would allow small businesses, nonprofits and unions to buy into Connecticut’s state employee healthcare plan. The bill would also expand Medicaid eligibility, increase subsidies for individuals on the state health exchange and offer healthcare subsidies for undocumented residents.

Lembo said the state would be able to offer more affordable insurance through leveraging massive purchasing power and eliminating profit from the administration of the plan.

“I think if we look at the whole system from the patient through the payer and assign value to each of the pieces of that, I think most of us would agree that the patient and the providers have the highest value and those that move money probably have lower value,” Lembo said. “When you’re in a situation where you can’t afford all of that, you need to tease out as best you can those pieces of the proposition that don’t bring as much value and that’s in part what I think we’re doing with the bill.”

But insurance companies in Connecticut might not see it that way.

Long-known as the Insurance Capital of the World, the state positioning itself as a competitor to some of its largest employers wasn’t received well by insurance companies when the public-option bill was pushed in 2019.

After some confusing back and forth between the legislative leaders, Gov. Ned Lamont and the insurance companies, the bill was eventually tabled after a disputed story that Cigna had threatened to leave the state.

“I would certainly support — and do, and have — a single-payer option. I see what we’re doing as transitional, not final.”

Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo regarding Senate Bill 842

Rep. Gilchrest said that while insurance companies offer value through contributions to the community and massive workforces, they will ultimately not go broke if the bill is passed.

“I believe these insurance companies don’t just serve Connecticut, so they will still have their books of business in other states, so this won’t be the downfall of these insurance companies, I just don’t see that happening,” Gilchrest said.

“It would not be cutting out the private insurance market at all,” Farrar said.

The online presentation also included those affected by increasing health insurance premiums, including a Hartford small business owner severely injured in a bicycle accident who required Medicaid to help cover his hospital costs, and a nonprofit organization whose increasing healthcare costs are not matched with increased state funding.

Pamela DonAroma, president of Futures, Inc, a nonprofit serving individuals with disabilities, said one of her employees experienced a health crisis and drove up the nonprofit’s healthcare premiums dramatically. The change left them facing an $84,000 liability and forced them to switch to a high-deductible plan.

DonAroma said having affordable healthcare would enable her to “stabilize” her workforce, which suffers from high turn-around rates.

“Ideally we would have a stable workforce because we’re in work dealing with relationships,” DonAroma said. “If we could pool together and purchase health insurance as a group, that would help.”

But there are concerns that Connecticut’s public option healthcare bill would essentially be using taxpayers as a financial back-stop, as opposed to insurance companies which have to maintain reserves to cover losses, and the state — acting as a competitor — would not have to jump through the regulatory hoops that traditional insurance companies do.

According to Insurance Matters to CT, a coalition of insurers, businesses and business associations, the public option would endanager the 25,000 insurance jobs in Connecticut.

“The Partnership Plan isn’t subject to Department of Insurance regulatory oversight, nor surbject to rate review and approval, solvency standards to assure claims can be paid based on premiums collected, state mandated benefits or community rating rules,” their website says.

Insurance Matters to CT argues the Public Option plan would create a “unlevel playing field undercutting the market and forcing job losses.”

However, one of Insurance Matters to CT’s talking points was addressed during the online forum; namely that the public option plan would be a gateway to a universal single-payer healthcare system in Connecticut.

In response to a viewer question about universal single-payer healthcare, Lembo said he sees the public option plan as a transitional. “I would certainly support — and do, and have — a single-payer option. I see what we’re doing as transitional, not final.”

Rep. Farrar agreed: “We’re moving toward a system that truly is universal and affordable and I think discussing what a single-payer structure looks like is for the betterment of all of us to have healthcare as a right.”

The public option healthcare bill is scheduled to go before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee for a public hearing on Tuesday, February 9. 

**Meghan Portfolio contributed to this article**

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