Veto On Treatment Data Draws Advocates’ Ire

June 11, 2014

BY MATTHEW Q. CLARIDA, The Hartford Courant

3:42 p.m. EDT, June 11, 2014

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is facing some backlash in the capitol and from activists across the state after he vetoed a bill which would have required the state’s health care organizations and insurance providers to report more data on how they treat and cover patients suffering from substance abuse.

The act in question, which passed both houses of the assembly with no votes against but was vetoed by Malloy on May 29, sought to expand the information reported to the state and used to generate the Consumer Report Card on Health Insurance Carriers, an annual release meant to help citizens compare health care policies and carriers. In addition to its focus on substance abuse, the bill also required more information on mental disorders which, like substance abuse issues, may not always be covered by typical insurance plans, forcing families and individuals to pay for expensive treatment out-of-pocket.

The veto is one of four exercised by Malloy this year.

In a letter to capitol colleagues on Monday, State Sen. Joe Markley wrote that “with more information available, state officials could gain a better understanding of the current substance abuse treatment system in Connecticut, with the ultimate goal of improving access to quality care.”

In his veto message the governor wrote that he supports the objective of the bill, but he worried that the construction of the legislation could lead to skewed data.

“I am persuaded that, perhaps due to stigma or other reasons, there may be a significant number of people who seek substance use treatment but are reported to carriers as being treated for other issues such as depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues,” the governor wrote,” Malloy wrote.

Markley said he did not see the veto coming, and that he had not heard significant opposition to the bill during the session. Like others, Markley speculated that the insurance industry, a powerful force in Connecticut business and politics, may have pushed Malloy into the veto.

“Maybe [the insurance industry] decided it was just easier to talk to [the governor] than to talk to the whole legislature,” he said.
News of the bill’s fate surprised many of those who spent months working for its passage.

Ana M. Gopoian, an advocate who works with a number of organizations including Connecticut Turning Youth and Families, said she was “heartbroken” when she heard of the veto.

“I was sad like you don’t even know,” she said. “Maybe we were celebrating too early, I think rightfully so, because it unanimously passed. It was kind of like pulling the rug right out from under us.”

Karen Zaorski, who also works with Connecticut Turning Youth and Families and who, like Gopoian, testified before the assembly in support of the bill, put it more succinctly.

“It honestly did feel like a slap in the face,” she said. “We all have to question why [the veto] happened.”

The prospects for the bill in the immediate future are slim. For an override to be successful, scores of democrats would have to leave the governor’s side during an election year.

Adam Joseph, a spokesperson for the senate Democratic caucus, said that it was “very unlikely” that the party’s leadership will bring the bill to the floor during the upcoming session where the assembly considers Malloy’s vetoes, essentially closing the book on this iteration of the legislation.

Efforts to increase access to insurance coverage, particularly for substance abusers, have made more progress in other states, even some close by. On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval E. Patrick announced new programs aimed a substance abuse prevention and response, including a review of insurance companies meant to address holes in coverage.

Markley said that progress on similar fronts in other states made this setback even more frustrating. “This was the governor’s opportunity to do something,” he said. “Collecting this information is a very reasonable first step.”

Malloy will meet with Patrick and other New England governors on June 17 to discuss substance abuse policy at Brandeis University outside of Boston.

In Connecticut, supporters of the bill said that they would work, in different ways, to at least keep the conversation going about the legislation.

“Because it’s a serious issue that many legislators hear about from their districts, I think that there might be a will to go forward with it. I don’t really see what the problem would be with discussing it in the veto session,” Markley said.