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March 20, 2023 Editor’s Take

Bordonaro: Lobbying spending highlights key focus on health care this legislative session

STEPHEN BUSEMEYER / CT MIRROR Legislators and lobbyists in the Connecticut state Capitol.

Need a tell-tale sign the state legislature is in session?

Look out for published reports that tout an industry’s economic impact or raise red flags about impending troubles.

We’ve seen several in recent weeks, including one from the Connecticut Hospital Association, which released a study that concluded 2022 was the worst year financially for Connecticut hospitals since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as health systems faced growing challenges from dramatically rising costs and inflation, workforce shortages, and treating sicker patients.

Greg Bordonaro

Collectively, the state’s hospitals reported $164 million in losses in fiscal 2022, the report said, including expenses that were $3.5 billion above pre-pandemic levels.

Such reports are typical this time of year as groups try to protect their interests and funding at the legislature. It’s a way for interest groups to grab media attention and hone their messaging to policymakers who ultimately control the purse strings.

The Connecticut Hospital Association (CHA) is one of the most active and powerful lobbying groups at the state Capitol.

Through the early part of this year’s session, which began Jan. 4, the CHA has spent the most money on lobbying, according to Office of State Ethics data. The group reported spending $270,473.76 between January and February of this year; second on the highest-spending list was utility giant Eversource, at $146,229.87.

In 2021 and 2022, CHA doled out a combined $2.2 million on state lobbying, making it the third-highest spender during that two-year period, ethics data shows.

That’s not totally surprising, given that health care in general is one of the most lobbied issues at the state Capitol.

Of the seven organizations that have spent the most money on lobbying so far this year, three are healthcare-related, including the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, which has doled out $116,666.

The Partnership represents business groups, hospitals and health insurers that have pushed back nationally against a single-payer health insurance system.

The Association of Health Plans, which represents the state’s health insurers, ranked No. 7, spending $71,489.36 in January and February, ethics data shows.

Overall, there are 265 organizations registered to lobby on various healthcare issues this session.

The stakes on healthcare policy grew higher in February when Gov. Ned Lamont unveiled several proposals that aim to rein in healthcare costs and improve care quality and access.

That’s a major theme in 2023, as the healthcare industry in general remains in flux coming out of the pandemic.

Affordability remains a problem, with the cost of health care continuing to rise, putting pressure on individuals as well as employers.

It’s a national issue that impacts Connecticut to a greater degree. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Connecticut annually spends approximately $12,500 per person on health care, about $2,300 more than the national average.

Marketplace competition has been eroded as hospitals and other care providers continue to consolidate, and the small group fully insured health insurance market is reeling following last year’s departure of two competitors, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and ConnectiCare.

Meantime, pharmaceutical costs continue to rise as the population in general is less healthy post pandemic.

Lamont’s proposals would impact health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.

For example, he wants to eliminate hospital facility fees charged at free-standing offices and clinics, and outlaw certain anti-competitive contracting practices used by health systems. He’s also proposing to rein in aggressive marketing practices by pharmaceutical representatives.

Lamont has called all stakeholders — including employers — to the table to help solve the various problems ailing the healthcare industry.

It’s unclear if his pleas will be heard. There are many competing interests at the bargaining table.

The state’s hospitals oppose some of the Democratic governor’s healthcare reform initiatives, while health insurers are largely in favor.

The bottom line is this: If Connecticut doesn’t better contain healthcare costs, it will be another area that erodes the state’s economic competitiveness.

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