A Medicaid Public Option for Connecticut?

By Jill Zorn |

In the midst of the flurry of health care bills under consideration at the capitol, there is one more bill to highlight, HB 5463:  An Act Concerning a Medicaid Public Option.  The Human Services Committee held a public hearing on the bill yesterday, March 20.

HB 5463 proposes that the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, in consultation with the Office of Health Strategy and the Health Care Cabinet, conduct a study on how a Medicaid public option, called HUSKY E, could be offered as a choice on Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, Access Health CT.  It suggests an aggressive timeline for the study to be completed and also proposes deadlines for a waiver request to be submitted to the federal government and for the Medicaid option to be implemented.

While there is not a lot of detail in the bill, it specifically states that steps be taken to “ensure the HUSKY E plan does not diminish the long-term sustainability of or negatively impact the Medicaid program.”  It also includes a provision to maximize access to “necessary health services…by applying any excess of funds received over plan costs to increased reimbursement rates for providers.”

Other states are considering establishing a pubic option based on the Medicaid program.  Among them are New Mexico, which passed a bill to study a Medicaid buy-in option, and Colorado, where legislation is expected to be introduced soon.  Nevada passed a bill last year, but it was vetoed by the governor.

In the Foundation’s testimony in support of the bill, we included a reminder that the idea of a public option is not new in Connecticut:

In 2009, Connecticut passed PA 09-148, to create the SustiNet plan, a public option that would be anchored in both Medicaid and the State Employee Health Plan.  The SustiNet Health Partnership Board, co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Comptroller Kevin Lembo, began meeting in September 2009 to plan implementation of SustiNet.  Five advisory committees and three task forces were convened and more than 160 Connecticut residents participated in the planning process.   A final report was submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly in January 2011.

Several other organizations submitted testimony in favor of HB 5463, including Connecticut Citizen Action Group, the Office of the Healthcare Advocate, Connecticut Voices for Children and Comptroller Lembo.

Here is an excerpt from the Comptroller’s testimony:

The status quo of high premiums, high deductibles and annual double-digit premium increases is unsustainable. We need to take bold state-level action to ensure quality and affordable coverage for the growing number of residents who do not have access to employer-sponsored health coverage. A Medicaid public option has the potential to lower premiums, stabilize the market and provide a viable insurance option for Connecticut residents who must purchase their coverage on the individual market.

Echoing the Comptroller’s call for bold action, the Foundation’s testimony concluded:

Universal Health Care Foundation has testified this session in support of bills that help to stabilize the current health insurance marketplace.  We firmly believe it is time to consider the bolder approach suggested in HB 5463.  We urge passage of this bill, to move Connecticut closer to the goal of universal, affordable, quality health coverage and care.