Now is the time to pass a Public Option law
November 20, 2020
By Jill Zorn
Late last week elected officials and advocates gathered on the steps of the capitol building in Hartford to announce an effort to make health care in Connecticut more accessible, affordable and equitable by advancing health insurance public option legislation in the 2021 session of the Connecticut General Assembly.
What is a Public Option?
It’s a health insurance choice, based on an existing public program, that is made available for more individuals or employers to purchase.
Current health insurance public programs in Connecticut include HUSKY (Medicaid), subsidized individual insurance sold through Access Health CT, and the state employee health plan. The latter covers over 200,000 people in the state, making it the single largest employer-based coverage plan in Connecticut. Medicare, which covers people in our state who are 65 and over or are disabled, is an example of a federal public health insurance program.
When people talk about a Public Option, this is what it could look like:
- Offering plans to small businesses or non-profits or labor unions through the state employee health plan
- Having the state employee health plan contract with an insurer to offer a plan on Access Health CT
- Improving subsidies for Access Health CT plans
- Expanding Medicaid eligibility to cover more people
Getting health coverage from a public program is very common. In fact, of the 3.6 million people who live in Connecticut, over half of them already get their insurance through one of the public programs mentioned above.
Public programs, because of their bargaining power, their mission and their goals provide good coverage at lower costs. Why shouldn’t more people in Connecticut benefit from these programs? An obvious way to improve health care for everybody is to improve existing public programs and offer ways for more people to buy into them.
Why a Public Option Matters
- Too many people in our state are unable to simply go to the doctor when they need to.
- A recent survey reports that 24% of respondents had difficulty paying medical bills and the same number said they delayed or avoided going to the doctor to get care because of worries about cost. 19% reported either cutting pills in half, skipping doses or not filling a prescription at all.
- The health care “market” is broken.
- It serves the bottom lines of insurers, pharmaceutical corporations and large hospital systems more than the health and health care needs of people. Market competition is disappearing. People who rely on private insurance are at the mercy of ever-increasing, out-of-control health care prices.
- Systemic racism permeates our health care system.
- People of color are more likely to be uninsured and undocumented immigrants have the highest uninsured rate in our state. People of color are more likely to die early or suffer from preventable illness. They live with higher rates of chronic stress, chronic disease, maternal mortality and low infant birth weight.
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, economic recession, and reckoning about the long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in our communities, Connecticut residents are losing their jobs and their health insurance in unprecedented numbers.
In 2019 efforts to pass public option legislation were stopped cold by insurance industry opposition. An even stronger bill died in the 2020 legislative session when the General Assembly shut down to due COVID-19.
Action is needed now, more than ever, on a scale that matches the ongoing health care emergency. That is why Universal Health Care Foundation is working shoulder to shoulder with a diverse and growing coalition of advocates, lawmakers and experts to implement new public options in Connecticut.