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February 5, 2021

Business groups gird for public option fight; Lembo predicts plan will pass in 2021

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon Comptroller Kevin Lembo in Bushnell Park.

Business groups are gearing up for another round of advocacy against government-sponsored health insurance legislation as the latest iteration of a state “public option” proposal moved forward on Friday. 

Democratic state lawmakers introduced a plan this week that would set up a state-run health insurance plan for small-business and nonprofit workers to be implemented and run by the office of the state’s comptroller, Kevin Lembo. 

The proposal, known as Senate Bill No. 842, advanced on Friday to its first public hearing, scheduled for Feb. 9. Lembo, in an interview with the Hartford Business Journal Friday, said that he is confident the bill will pass this year and that some insurers, while opposing the legislation, have talked to him behind closed doors about partnering with the state if the plan goes forward.

Business owners are most concerned that taxpayers would have to bail out a state plan eventually and end up paying more, said  Wyatt Bosworth, a lobbyist with the  Connecticut Business & Industry Association, which opposes the public option plan. 

“In practice it may result in even greater financial distress for the small businesses and everyday taxpayers,” Bosworth said. “Missing from this dialog is really the voice of Connecticut small businesses.”

“The reason we fight it so hard is that it’s the path to single payer and that is completely unsustainable,” said Susan Halpin, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans. “This is about a complete restructuring of our system.”

Not only does the proposal threaten private insurers, it may also cannibalize the state’s healthcare exchange, Halpin added. 

Bosworth and Halpin also both pointed to deficits at the Connecticut Partnership Plan, a state-run effort to cover workers at cities and towns, which lost $31.9 million in 2019.

“[The state] It hasn’t done a good job of running a solvent program, that worry translates into a public option plan,” Bosworth said. 

Lembo countered that the losses were expected in the initial years of the plan and adjustments were made to offset losses. As proof the plan is working, he said that premium increases were small or nonexistent in the past year and not a single city or town has left the program.

Looking forward, the business groups are taking part in ad campaigns and polling efforts to raise doubts about the proposal. The Insurance Matters to Connecticut Coalition is running ads and an information website on the state level. Connecticut’s Health Care Future, a local branch of national advocacy group Partnership for America's Health Care Future, funded a poll released earlier this week showing doubts about a public option. 

The day before, Lembo endorsed an poll funded by another advocacy group showing support for a public option among voters, including small business owners. 

National insurance industry groups are looking to Connecticut as a trend-setter for similar public-option efforts on a state and federal level, Halpin said. With its reputation as the nation’s insurance capital, the state will attract notice whatever the outcome, she added.

“Everyone sees Connecticut as a bellwether for this kind of thing,” Halpin said.

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February 5, 2021

Are we promoting a Public Healthcare Option to provide coverage for the uninsured, or are we trying to increase the size of the state union employee risk pool to reduce their premium costs? You decide.

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