Hartford - Democratic state lawmakers on Monday took another victory lap for the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on national health care and laid out what the Affordable Care Act offers Connecticut residents.
When the law takes full effect on Jan. 1, 2014, the percentage of state residents lacking health insurance coverage is expected to drop from 11 percent to 3 percent, they said. An estimated 377,000 people in Connecticut are currently uninsured.
"It is obvious that we are going to be better off as a state and as a country as a result of this fabulous, historic decision," Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said at a news conference. "I'm glad I lived long enough to see it."
State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, co-chair of the legislature's Public Health Committee, said she too is still elated over Thursday's 5-4 high court ruling that upheld most of the health care law. As she told one colleague Monday, "I have been eating my words about Chief Justice Roberts."
In an interview, Ritter said she is optimistic the law will stay intact long enough for the 2014 rollout, despite vows by Republicans in Congress to repeal it or deny it funding.
But Republican State Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich said he has spoken with many doctors and has yet to meet one who fully supports the health care law or believes it will cut costs.
"I think this was drafted more to expand the size of government than to be a real solution," he said.
State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri said there will be a big statewide marketing campaign to get the uninsured to buy insurance.
To make the insurance affordable, there will be large subsidies in the form of tax credits for individuals and families with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $92,000 for a family of four, she said. Those who get insurance via the state's health care exchange can chose from four options: the bronze, silver, gold or platinum plans. And very low-income individuals - those making under $15,000 a year - will get health insurance through expanded Medicaid.
Still, some people who don't qualify for Medicaid will choose to pay the penalty rather than buy the subsidized insurance, Veltri said.
The penalty for being uninsured in 2014 will be the greater of either $95 or 1 percent of taxable income. The penalty will rise in 2015 to $325 or 2 percent of taxable income, and in 2016 to $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income.
"Some people may opt to take the penalty because the penalty, at least in the first year, may be less than the cost of buying a plan," Veltri said.
The state advocate said it is too soon to know whether the subsidies will be generous enough to make the act of buying insurance cost-neutral for a low-income individual. But officials emphasize that if an uninsured person were to suffer a serious illness or injury, the cost of treatment would likely exceed any potential savings from skipping insurance.
"Every human being in this state deserves the type of health care coverage that assures them that while they are in those dire moments, they don't have to worry about whether or not they have coverage," said Rep. Andy Fleishmann, D-West Hartford. "To have lived in a country that allowed people to have those worries at the worst, serious moments of their life was unacceptable."
Beginning in 2014, insurers will be forbidden from excluding people with pre-existing conditions. Insurers in Connecticut are already prohibited under the 2010 health care law from turning away children with pre-existing conditions.
Officials said that 422,154 state residents have already received free preventive services through the law, including mammograms and colonoscopies.
Another 42,224 residents received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs. And 137,452 residents with private insurance will receive $13 million in rebates this summer from insurance companies, officials said.