July 9, 2012
EDITORIAL

Supreme Court ruling doesn’t resolve it all

Amid all the cheering here in Connecticut after the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, there were a few voices of reason that were urging caution.

Add us to that chorus.

Certainly the ruling was good news for Connecticut's uninsured populations, for those saddled with coverage problems due to pre-existing conditions, and those with older children who need coverage on mom and dad's policy.

But the situation appears far less clear for Connecticut's business community. Here in the nation's Insurance Capital, the major insurers continue to grumble about tweaks they need in the law. Without them, they say, premiums will rise, exactly the opposite of the desired effect.

The short-term rush of cash from Uncle Sam to pay for an expansion of Medicaid is welcome. But veteran politicos say they've seen this movie before. The money will soon go away as the feds tighten their belt and the state will be stuck with another expensive unfunded mandate.

Then there's the complexity of how the state's insurance exchanges will work. Will small businesses find it makes economic sense to stop providing coverage to employees? Will Connecticut's inherent liberal bias spin it into offering a form of the single-payer system that would put the state in the insurance business opposite its signature industry?

And is it safe to make any preparations until after the November election, given the hue and cry raised by Republicans still bent on repealing the whole package of Obamacare, even if they have nothing to replace it?

There's nothing business hates more than uncertainty. And despite the seeming finality of the Supreme Court ruling, we remain a long way from having the kind of certainty in the health care world that business needs.

Keep those seat belts firmly fastened. There's still a bumpy ride ahead.

When the lights go out

There's nothing that kills a summer weekend like severe weather. Connecticut residents experienced the inconvenience when Irene blew through last August. Now our neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic states have been going through it with a freak storm that knocked out power to about four million customers.

Watching from afar as restoration efforts drag offers a new perspective on our own 2011 experience. Utility companies in and around Washington D.C. are taking criticism that sounds like an echo of what CL&P heard here. Response is painfully slow — about one million customers were without power four days after the storm; out-of-state aid is late arriving; finger pointing has begun.

It's good to see both CL&P and UI sending crews to help our neighbors. That's what mutual aid is all about. It's also instructive that it took about 72 hours to get the wheels in motion. Perhaps there are ways to cut that lag time.

There's also renewed conversation about the idea of putting wires underground. Newsweek and CNN columnist David Frum writes: "Outages are not inevitable. The German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year. The winds may howl. The trees may fall. But in Germany, the lights stay on."

The 'trick' is underground wires and making the transition didn't cost anything like the estimates being floated by U.S. utilities. A study in the United Kingdom estimates undergrounding lines will be four to five times as expensive as overhead lines, half what our utilities estimate.

Certainly cost is a factor. But reliability has a value.

Our neighbors in the nation's capital may be in the best position to be a test site for underground lines and a week without air conditioning may be just the motivation needed.

We'll be watching closely what flows from this discussion.

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