Connecticut lawmakers take up bipartisan health insurance proposals as 2020 legislative session nears

November 15, 2019

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Thursday dug into the details of health care policy that may emerge next year in legislation being drafted to stem rapidly rising costs.

The Democratic co-chairs of the legislature’s insurance and real estate committee and the top Republicans on the panel solicited the views of representatives of the insurance industry and others in a nearly day-long forum. The session focused on state-funded reinsurance, importing prescription drugs and other issues.

“The one thing I’m looking closely at is bipartisan health reform,” said Sen. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, the Senate chairman of the committee.

He cited “big ticket items” such as lower-cost prescriptions, reinsurance programs and a health policy commission.

Sen. Kevin Kelly of Stratford, the committee’s top Senate Republican, said he’s optimistic legislation will be ready for the start of the General Assembly’s 2020 session in February. “It’s why we’re starting early,” he said.

Escalating costs for health care and prescriptions are the source of more complaints from constituents than most other issues, lawmakers say. But difficulties crafting health care policy in Hartford that can win support across the political and business landscape are similar to the partisan divide in Washington over federal health care legislation.

An effort in the legislature earlier this year to establish government-subsidized health insurance to compete with the private sector failed in the face of strong opposition by Connecticut’s large and influential insurance industry. Lawmakers now are “not contemplating” the public option, Kelly said.

The industry could help lawmakers draft legislation, he said at the committee meeting.

“We’re here in the insurance capital,” Kelly said. “We have the best and the brightest, to use the talent of a flagship industry to come up with a different model.”

One proposal is to establish a reinsurance program funded by the state that would reduce health care premiums in a waiver to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, allowing states to figure out different ways to provide access to health care. Reinsurance in health care guarantees assistance to insurance companies in paying a claim if the costs of paying for that claim exceeds a particular amount.

States that use the system provide reinsurance funding ranging from 2.5% to nearly 52% of the program’s cost.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, the House chair of the insurance committee, said state spending could amount to “a lot of money for little reward.”

“How are you justifying it?” he asked.

Christine Cappiello, government relations director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said reinsurance helps stabilize the market, which avoids “huge swings.” Reinsurance is a form of insurance purchased by insurance companies to reduce risk, limiting potential losses and protecting customers from uncovered losses.

Susan Halpin, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, cautioned against government mandates, saying they potentially dampen innovation.

“When I think of a mandate, I wonder how it would be structured,” she said.