Two weeks ago we talked about Washington State, which became the first to officially enact a public option health insurance plan, although the details of the bill revealed that it was far from being the public option many expected. This week we head over to the East Coast, where Connecticut is toying with its own version of a public option plan. The Connecticut General Assembly is currently considering H.B. 7267, also known as “An Act Concerning Public Options for Health Care in Connecticut,” which would establish a variation of public option that focuses on the state’s small businesses.
The bill establishes what it calls the “ConnectHealth Program,” which would create a public health insurance option specifically for small businesses with 50 or fewer people by 2020. The state comptroller’s office runs the state’s exchange, and Democrat Comptroller Kevin Lembo claims that these small businesses employ more than 700,000 workers in the state. However, less than half of those business employers provide health insurance. Considering that 8 in 10 employees say health insurance is “very” or “extremely” important when making career decisions, the fact that over a quarter of Connecticut’s workers aren’t eligible for employer-sponsored coverage is a major issue in the Constitution State. “The small employers either can’t afford a plan any longer, or they get so frustrated by the changes from year to year that they walk away,” Lembo said when he testified in front of the Assembly’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee. “The existing market forces are not working for employers or people they are trying to provide coverage for.”
Although the bill’s statement of purpose authorizes the Office of the Comptroller to offer coverage to small employers, Lembo says that the state plans on contracting with private insurers to run the plan. Like in Washington State’s plan, this caveat is crucial as it deviates from the conventional idea of a public option plan, where the government itself acts as an insurer and sells coverage directly to individuals. Lembo also argues that this plan will make running a small business cheaper, therefore fostering the growth of Connecticut’s small business sector. One small business owner, Alan Zinser, agrees with the comptroller and notes that health care costs have become a significant drag for his clients at Murphy Business Sales Connecticut. “I feel this kind of public option is a slam dunk, business-friendly proposal,” Zinser told reporters.
Regardless of Connecticut Democrats’ intentions, would this measure really help with the issues at hand? Despite Lembo’s attempt to appease the private sector, H.B. 7267 has seen intense pushback from businesses and the insurance industry. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) has spent over $270,000 lobbying throughout the course of this legislative session. “It will be disruptive to the marketplace and not do anything,” CBIA CEO Joe Brennan said. “This product, as far as we can tell, does nothing to address the cost of care.” The Connecticut Association of Health Plans, multiple chambers of commerce, and the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association have also joined CBIA in vocal opposition to the bill. Connecticut is considered to be the “Insurance Capital of the World” because several major insurers, including Aetna and Cigna, are headquartered within its borders. According to the industry’s lobbyists, offering a public option would undermine the state’s largest employment sector.
Many disagree with the state comptroller’s office claims that the public option would be less expensive than any private plan. One of those engaged in vocal disagreement is our own Julie Chubet, president of Connecticut’s state-wide NAHU chapter. “Expanding government-run coverage would destabilize the private market risk pools and lead to higher premium costs for small business owners struggling to stay in business,” Julie wrote in a CT Mirror op-ed. “Ultimately, it will also mean higher taxes as these government programs will require ever-increasing subsidies to remain solvent.”
H.B. 7267 is currently tabled and has yet to pass the House. Although the state government has a Democratic trifecta, with the party controlling the governorship, the state House 90-60, the state Senate 22-14, Governor Ned Lamont has not explicitly endorsed the proposal quite yet. He has gone on record saying he supports “some sort of public option,” but it is possible he might disagree with the type of public option that the Democratic legislators are currently pushing.