Christine Cohen

State Senator

Christine Cohen

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Listening, Advocating & Getting Results

March 7, 2019

Committee co-chairs Lesser and Scanlon, Joined by
Looney, Aresimowicz and Cohen to Announce Public Option for Health Insurance Legislation

public option

State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford), advocates for the enactment of a public option for health insurance during a press conference in the Legislative Office Building. (Thursday, March 7, 2019)

HARTFORD, CT – Today, the co-chairs of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, State Senator Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) and State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford), were joined by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven), Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) and State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford), to announce legislation which will create a public option for health insurance for Connecticut families, small businesses and nonprofits. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and the Connecticut State Medical Society also gave their support for the public option. Legislators agree the time is now for a public option for health insurance.

“Ten years after Joe Lieberman killed the public option, Ned Lamont and the General Assembly can finally deliver on the promise of real reform. Connecticut’s public option will be the most transformative change to healthcare in years,” said Sen. Lesser, Insurance and Real Estate Committee co-chair. “We are stepping up to give small businesses, nonprofits and individuals real choice, real competition and lower prices. With healthcare costs spiraling out of control, too many families find health care unaffordable or are stuck with deductibles that keep care out of reach. If that means taking on special interests, game on. Here’s what we can’t afford to do: wait for Washington to get its act together.”

“The rising cost of health care is crushing Connecticut’s small businesses and middle class. They need relief and they need it now,” said Rep. Scanlon, Insurance and Real Estate Committee co-chair. “By creating a public option for health insurance, we can give the people of Connecticut the option of a quality, affordable and predictably priced health insurance plan.”

“A public option health plan would be more efficient than the for profit industry,” said Sen. Looney. “Federally, Medicare spends a much lower percentage on administrative costs than the private insurers do. Creating a public option would allow our state to see whether the state government can provide better care at a lower cost. Connecticut citizens would be able to decide whether to purchase their health coverage from the state or from a private health carrier. I believe this is a choice our constituents should have.”

“The reality is that we don’t have a healthcare system, we have a healthcare industry,” said Speaker Aresimowicz. “Improving access to quality, affordable healthcare for Connecticut residents is an ongoing priority for Democrats, because we see healthcare as a right for people not a privilege. Offering a state employee type healthcare plan that leverages government purchasing power will provide real help to the thousands of families and small businesses that are struggling to keep up with ever rising costs.”

“Somewhere in Connecticut, there’s a young worker with a big idea that they want to chase – something that could change their world or ours – but for now, they’re forced into a cubicle because it may be their only way to access health care,” said State Comptroller Lembo, who administers the state health plan on behalf of approximately 200,000 public employees, retirees and their dependents. “As the state’s former healthcare advocate, I’ve seen this story play out a time or two – dreams set aside and lives put on hold indefinitely and squandered because our health care market is broken. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to get the best health care at the best price through the state plan, but none of us entered public service to say ‘I’ve got mine.’ This legislation would allow us to extend the successes of the state plan – high-quality health care coverage at the best price – to more Connecticut residents, beginning with small businesses and their employees. How can Connecticut possibly grow its economy when it can’t attract workers with affordable quality health care options? And how can our workforce possibly be productive when employees have no clue how they or their family will make ends meet if they face illness or injury. This legislation would make certain that no opportunities are left on the table.”

“The Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) is pleased to support the concept of HB 7267 and commend Sen. Lesser and Rep. Scanlon for introducing this legislation,” said Claudia Gruss, MD, President of CSMS. “CSMS supports the concept of pooling in the purchase of health insurance as a way to provide greater access, affordability, and quality of health insurance for patients. Opening up options for access to affordable health insurance policies at the individual and small group level will only help to eliminate the use of High Deductible health plans as well as decrease limited and tiered networks.”

Legislators outlined two bills, a House bill and companion Senate legislation which will establish a public option. The first, House Bill 7267, takes a three-pronged approach which will roll out a public option over the course of three years. The expectation for the fiscal note of this bill is under $1 million. The second, Senate Bill 134, will open the state employee health plan to small business employees.

House Bill 7267

The Small Business Option (2020) Phase one of the public option

  • Open the Partnership 2.0 Plan to all small businesses and non-profits (50 employees and under) so all employers can offer quality and affordable health care coverage to their employees
  • Through its Partnership 2.0 plan, the state currently offers small group insurance to non-state public employees, where enrollees are able to enjoy the benefits of the state employee health plan

Plan design benefits:

  • Legislation will allow the State to administer several plan designs, enabling employers to find a plan with the right balance between cost and coverage for their employees
  • All plans will include the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), allowing enrollees to seek preventative care services at no additional cost. In addition, HEP enrollees are not responsible for a deductible
  • Because the State Employee Health Plan is so large, it has a stable risk pool with low administrative costs. This has allowed the State to seek minimal premium increases compared to other small group plan

The Individual Option (2021) Phase two of the public option

  • Establish ConnectHealth to offer high quality, low cost health insurance to individuals
  • Through the Comptroller’s office, the State will contract with one or more private insurers to offer ConnectHealth to individuals as a high quality, affordable health plan

ConnectHealth Plan Design Benefits:

  • Plans will be required to offer an extensive list of Essential Health Benefits and will meet specific standards outlined under the ACA
  • Subsidies may be available to reduce out of pocket costs for participants, based on their household income
    • With the authority provided in HB 7267: An Act Concerning Public Options for Connecticut and the negotiating power of the Comptroller, the state will be able to maintain low out-of-pocket costs for consumers compared to other private plans

Looking Ahead (2021) Phase three of the public

  • Studying long-term opportunities to make additional affordable options available for more Connecticut residents
  • A multi-stakeholder Advisory Council will be formed to guide the development of the ConnectHealth option, and to consider ways to further improve affordability for all consumers
  • The Comptroller’s office will coordinate with the Advisory Council and Office of Health Strategy to develop a strategy to request federal approval to use funds to provide additional subsidies for premiums and cost sharing
  • Information on HB 7267 is from the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, the Comptroller’s Office, United State of Care and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group

Senate Bill 134 This legislation will…

  • Encourage a competitive health insurance marketplace, protecting consumers from private insurers implementing steep and rapid price increases.
  • Help small businesses lower operating costs (less expensive fringe benefits).
  • Improve the quality of health care small businesses in Connecticut can offer their employees.
  • Make Connecticut small businesses more attractive and competitive to workers.
  • Decrease the state’s healthcare costs for its own employees by increasing the buying power of its health plan.