Kelly: public option could hurt the very people it is designed to help

November 13, 2020

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

Legislative Democrats and Comptroller Kevin Lembo are once again pushing for a public option health care plan, making it a priority as Democrats say health care was a deciding factor in this month’s election.

Lawmakers argue the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a problem that had already existed — the link between employment and health insurance.

With more than a hundred thousand Connecticut residents out of work due to the pandemic, the “uninsured crisis in Connecticut” has seen a “huge and disturbing increase” in the number of people lacking health insurance, Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, said.

He said many Democrats ran campaigns on revamping the state’s health care system and have the responsibility to their constituents to deliver results.


THE PUSH: Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Democratic legislators want to craft a public option health care bill.

THE HITCH: Lembo said taxpayers could be on the hook if claims exceed premiums, which Lamont said should not be considered.

DEMOCRATS: Democrats say they were elected last week largely due to their positions on health care reform.

REPUBLICANS: Republicans say a public option could cost taxpayers more money and are hopeful there will be bipartisan discussion when crafting the bill’s language.

While details are lacking as discussion has just started on the proposal, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said any measure must include provisions to make health care affordable, reliable, and free of high deductibles that only cover severe medical situations.

Connecticut lawmakers seek to implement a state plan as Republicans in Washington, D.C., have sought for years to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m not going to bet my constituents’ lives or their health care on (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell,” Connecticut House Speaker-designate Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said, adding that the uncertainty of how a session will run during a pandemic emphasizes the importance of getting to work quickly. “If we wait until May to pass this bill, we’ve made a mistake.”

Lembo said the proposal is likely to leverage the state employee pool for better deals, which he said labor leaders support, but that the state could be on the hook if claims exceed premiums.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that he doesn’t want state taxpayers to be put at risk.

“I don’t want the taxpayers to be the backstop of anything,” he said, but added that he will work with Lembo and legislative leaders to ensure any proposal is carefully designed and is affordable for individuals and small businesses. “You cannot leave anybody behind when it comes to public health.”

While Republicans are supportive of providing quality, more affordable health care, leaders are questioning whether a public option is the best route.

“I appreciate Democrats’ passion in pursuing affordable health care — I believe it’s a goal shared by everyone serving in the legislature,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said.

He added, however, that the latest projection shows a $25 million deficiency in the state employee health care account, combined with the insolvency of the CT Partnership Plan.

“The Democrats should finish what they started,” he said. “The state needs to first deliver on the promise they’ve already made into state-run family leave program before taking on new and extremely complex challenges such as this.”

Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said that while both parties agree on the importance of affordable and reliable health care, a proposal backed by taxpayers could hurt the very people it is designed to help if claims exceed premiums.

“Historically, health care has not been a partisan issue in Connecticut — and it shouldn’t be,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful Democrats will reach across the aisle when crafting the legislation.