Last month we talked about Connecticut’s public option bill, H.B. 7267, which would have established a variation of public option that focused on the state’s small businesses. However, after weeks of intense debate, the bill officially died in the Senate earlier this week, despite bipartisan negotiations along the way. Democrat Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the media last week that insurance carrier Cigna, which is headquartered in Connecticut, had coerced Lembo and the bill’s proponents by threatening to leave the state if the bill passed.
H.B. 7267 was supposed to establish the “ConnectHealth Program,” which would have created a public health insurance option specifically for small businesses with 50 people or less by 2020. As negotiations progressed, the bill also included a heavy amount of regulation in other areas, including a tax on opioids, reestablishment of an individual mandate, reinsurance, the ability for the state to import drugs from Canada, and a reversal of cuts in Medicaid. The proposal was highly ambitious, but proponents Sen. Matt Lesser (D) and Rep. Sean Scanlon (D) had hoped that at least some sections of the bill would make it to the governor’s desk. By the time the bill passed the House with bipartisan support, it had effectively been stripped of all components related to the original public option idea. The bill then died in the Senate without being put to a vote.
Comptroller Lembo, who runs the state exchange and spearheaded the initiative, claims that the biggest factor in the bill’s demise was the influence of powerful interest groups. Lembo told reporters that Cigna CEO David Cordani threatened to “reconsider where they’re domiciled” if the public option bill moved any further. Connecticut is considered the “Insurance Capital of the World,” with several large insurance carriers headquartered there, including Cigna. Cigna denied that any threats were made but did admit that the carrier was lobbying very hard against the bill. “We never said anything like that,” Cigna spokesman Brian Henry said. “We said it was not good for the state, the citizens or the industry."
Lembo’s primary criticism of Cigna’s actions was the timing of Cordani’s letter, which was delivered a week after Governor Ned Lamont (D) announced that lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement on the bill’s language. Lembo said that Cigna questioned “essentially every element of the public option piece of the bill…at the last minute,” and claimed that the objection was a result of political impulse. However, Cordani was far from alone; health care executives and business leaders across the state opposed the bill, leading a substantial lobbying effort that costed hundreds of millions of dollars. Cigna’s letter may have come when Democrats were short on time, but it could not have been a surprise for the comptroller’s office or lawmakers. Legislators say that Lembo’s statement itself was a significant factor in the bill’s death; Rep. Lesser admitted that the comptroller’s comments were “a little premature” and casted a shadow over the measure’s potential passage, prompting several Republicans to side with Cigna.
Rep. Scanlon says he is still hopeful about an eventual reintroduction of the bill. "We just ran out of time,” the original sponsor of the bill told reporters. “We'll hopefully spend the next six months negotiating, and come back next session and try to pass a public option bill." If Scanlon and fellow Democrats do decide to reintroduce the bill, they should once again expect heavy backlash from the state’s largest employment sector.