Health & Justice Progress in 2022

Power at the Capitol is Not in the Hands of the People

Legislative sessions come and go.  The annual clash between efforts to help everyday people take care of themselves and their families and the oversized influence of industries and interests that want more money and power for themselves plays out in the halls of the Capitol.  Too often money and power win. 

Example: A task force is created to recommend ways to hold hospitals accountable to the people and communities they serve. The task force membership includes a variety of voices. In the final days of the session, a big hospital network forces a change that takes a seat from a community health center and puts a “Hartford hospital” in its place. 

Example: Nonpartisan surveys of voters show overwhelming support for action to control prescription drug costs. A bill to create a state prescription drug affordability board has the support of respected advocacy groups, like Universal and AARP, but never makes it past a public hearing because of backroom lobbying by the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

People who need the most help to recover from the ravages of the pandemic and racism struggle for small victories, even when our state’s coffers are overflowing with a surplus. Immigrants are told that the state can provide health care for their children up to age 12, but teenagers and adults must suffer without coverage. Expectant mothers living in rural areas of Connecticut are forced to travel long distances to deliver their babies. Hardworking people cut their prescription pills in half or go without essentials to manage their health.

All too often, power at the Capitol has one face – and that is money. But what about the people who need help living safe and healthy lives?

Universal is working to help build power and demand for policies that put people first alongside communities whose voices and needs are most left behind – Black, Brown and Indigenous people of color, undocumented immigrants, LBBTQ+, disabled and low-income people from across Connecticut.

We are committed to changing the face of the conversation about what it takes for Connecticut to be a better place to live and thrive. It’s clear the status quo is unacceptable.

Here is a rundown of progress made in the 2022 legislative session:

Covering More Immigrant Children

In 2021, advocates won HUSKY (Medicaid) coverage for qualified children from birth through age 8, starting on January 1, 2023 – and pregnant women starting this year – regardless of immigration status. 

This year, the push to cover all children through age 18 died in a tie vote in the Human Services committee.  The issue was revived and passed in the state budget bill. 

Coverage was expanded to children through age 12 – and all children in the program on January 1, will be covered until they turn 19.  

Universal is a proud member of the HUSKY 4 Immigrants Coalition and will continue to advocate for HUSKY coverage for all immigrants in what will surely be a hard-fought battle next year and beyond.   

Protecting Patients & Communities from Hospital Decisions

In the wake of hospital decisions to close labor and delivery services and downgrade intensive care units – and the growing power of big hospital systems (like Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health), advocates pressed the state to hold hospitals accountable to the communities and people they serve.  

Hospital accountability to the people they serve:

  • Hospitals can no longer terminate services without state review or approval. Now any service suspended for more than 180 days will be considered terminated and the hospital must file a Certificate of Need seeking permission from the state to keep it closed.  This change offers an opportunity for public input and state review of the impact of the termination of services on the health of the community. 
  • A new task force will review the Certificate of Need process and recommend changes to the legislature in January 2023. The core directive for the task force is how to better protect the interests of patients and appropriately regulate the big hospital systems. One member of the task force will represent consumers, and two advocates are also to be appointed. 
  • A new law focuses on better defining nonprofit hospitals’ obligations to address health needs in their communities (called community benefits).

This is only just a start of what needs to happen to even out the balance of power and is surely to be an important issue in the 2023 session.

Steps Forward on Affordability

Progress on affordability issues is difficult to make in a state where the insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical industries have tremendous lobbying clout. 

Particularly disappointing was the inability to pass legislation to address prescription drug prices.  Universal worked in coalition to get an important bill (SB 260) introduced in committee to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.  The bill did not make it out of the committee process. The drafted bill and public testimony in support of the idea provide a great jumping off point for a bigger advocacy effort next year.  

Action to rein in costs:

  •  A new requirement that insurer denial notices to must prominently display the contact information for the Office of the Healthcare Advocate on the cover page.  (The Healthcare Advocate provides free assistance to people who are appealing denials of coverage and care and has an impressive track record taking on the powerful insurers.)
  • Preserving the Office of Health Strategy’s Cost Growth and Quality Benchmark and Primary Care Target process.  This is an important effort to set goals for lowering costs, improving quality and increasing the availability of primary care in Connecticut.   Universal has been a supporter of this effort, which started as an executive order by the Governor and is now codified in statute. 

A Big Push on Children’s Mental Health

Three major bills passed this session to address the crisis in children’s behavioral health – a concern that has become so much more acute and evident since the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic.

SB 1, SB 2, and HB 5001 set up new programs and provide added funding for:

  • Mobile crisis units and crisis centers
  • More school-based services
  • A new inpatient unit at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center
  • Workforce development to address the shortage of trained professionals needed to help address the crisis

Victories on Related Justice Issues

Health justice is not just about health care, but also about advancing policies that address the many issues that impact our health. Universal stands in solidarity with our partners working for racial, social and economic justice in order to build more healthy communities across the state.

Connecticut moving toward greater justice:

  • Reproductive rights have been protected and strengthened in Connecticut, ahead of the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade and loss of the right to abortion for people who can become pregnant – the measures also protect people who provide abortion to pregnant people from other states that are likely to ban it in the event of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
  • Increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit will put more money in the pockets of low-income earners – the increase is temporary, but a good sign for future fights on this issue.
  • Creation of a state Child Tax Credit will help families (with $250 per child, for up to 3 children) – though this measure is also temporary, it is a first step towards making a program like this permanent.
  • Improved voting rights, including extending access to absentee ballots due to COVID 19 for this November’s elections.
  • The PROTECT Act has been signed by the Governor, which will restrict the use of solitary confinement in prisons, a practice that is physically and mentally damaging to those incarcerated.
  • The Connecticut Clean Air Act passed, which aims to improve air quality and reduce the impacts of poor air quality – like elevated asthma rates for city children – on the health of residents.

Despite these wins, other issue areas, like affordable housing and compassionate release for those in the prison system due to COVID 19, did not gain traction. We will continue to build power in communities with our partners to press our legislators for policies that advance a more just society.