Senate Passes Regulatory Bill For Health Care Industry [Hartford Courant]

May 22, 2015

Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — The Senate late Thursday approved a bill that seeks to overhaul the labyrinthine and swiftly changing health care landscape.

The bipartisan legislation, which cleared the chamber on a vote of 30-5, has been in the works for more than a year.
Supporters hailed the measure as a consumer-friendly proposal that will make Connecticut’s health care industry more transparent and accountable.

The proposals contained in the bill “are all constituent-driven,” said Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, co-chairwoman of the public health committee. “This is legislation that takes into account what our consumers and what our constituents are experiencing out there in the health care climate that we have now.”

The legislation seeks to regulate the practice of “surprise billing,” when patients are blindsided by bills they did not know were coming because an out-of-network provider was involved in their medical care.

“It is sometimes a whopping bill,” Gerratana said. “So we want to make sure that people are going to be aware of what that will mean to them and to their pocketbook.”

The measure also sets new limits on outpatient medical facility fees and adds new regulatory oversight to the sale of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit chains. And it seeks to provide consumers with greater access to their electronic medical records.

The bill was championed by the chamber’s top Democrat, Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven, and its top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven.

“I acknowledge that the bill’s not perfect,” Fasano said, “but I will acknowledge it is really, really good. And I will acknowledge it is on the right course.”

Looney said there is some urgency to acting quickly. “This bill is not just a critically important bill, but it is a time-sensitive, critically important bill,” he said. “It is something on which the opportunity to move is now. We must move now, otherwise we are at a disadvantage.”

Sen. Joe Markley of Southington was among the four Republicans and one Democrat who voted against the proposal. “We all want the same thing — we all want to have good health care available for the people we represent, for all the people of Connecticut, for an affordable price,” he said.

But Markley questioned whether representatives of the health care industry had an opportunity to weigh in.

“The hospitals have many concerns, the insurance companies have many concerns, the business community has many concerns,” Markley said. “That’s a lot of people to be concerned.”

But both of the bill’s architects said they took pains to involve people on all sides of the issue. “We’ve had a lot of experts, we’ve had a lot of testimony and we have met with stakeholders all the time,” Fasano said.

For instance, proponents initially planned to ban so-called facility fees charged by hospital-owned outpatient centers. After lengthy negotiations, the plan was scaled back to bar the fees only for evaluation and management visits.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. The legislature adjourns on June 3.