While tolls, bonding and the budget have dominated this legislative session, a battle has been quietly brewing over the creation of a state-administered health insurance public option for small businesses. That fight is about to burst into the open as the session heads into its final weeks. It pits GOP lawmakers and some of the state’s most powerful lobbies—big insurers based in and around Hartford and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA)—against state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Democrats who control the General Assembly, and patient advocates. Backers say their legislation would provide small businesses with a desperately needed alternative to increasingly unaffordable commercial plans, while injecting greater competition to force down prices. Opponents counter that a public option would harm the state’s insurance industry, potentially leading to job losses.
Although Gov. Ned Lamont said nothing about health care policy in his inaugural speech to the General Assembly, it’s likely to be a major theme of at least his early months in office. Why? Depending on how it’s calculated, health care makes up 25 to 30 percent of the state budget, according to the Office of the State Comptroller. Lamont will have to balance the need to save money with the desire of many inside and outside the General Assembly to expand and improve health care coverage and lower costs for consumers. “There’s almost two levels,” said Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation, which focuses on assuring health equity and access to affordable care for all.
Connecticut was among 29 states nationwide to earn an “F” from health advocates for lacking consumer-friendly laws that help residents compare actual prices for health care procedures and services. “There is no public resource in Connecticut that makes (comparison) pricing information available to consumers. That means there’s no consumer protection against egregious pricing behaviors by providers,” said Francois de Brantes, executive director of the Health Care Incentive Improvement Institute in Newtown, which partnered with Catalyst for Payment Reform to publish the “Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws.”
The Report Card’s scores reflected a state’s overall legislative effort toward health care price transparency, with states that post price information on a public website receiving more points than those that release a report or provide data to consumers only upon request. The organizations that developed the report card are nonprofits that support payment reforms to increase the quality and value of health care. Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said, “The score is totally warranted.