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State needs public option for health security

We want health care we can depend on, not one that we have to worry about.

In the best of times, our health-care system is often inconsistent and unreliable. For the past few years, insurance premiums and deductibles have risen faster than our paychecks, with no end in sight. Even though the Affordable Care Act limited some of the most outrageous abuses in our system, like lifetime limits and benefit denials due to pre-existing conditions, a doctor visit, let alone a hospital visit, remains costly for many. Subsidized plans and HUSKY eligibility are still limited, and out of pocket expenses are a constant worry, even for those with insurance coverage.

Health care costs are often unpredictable. Choosing insurance plans is confusing, overly complicated. Premiums, networks, copayments, deductibles, formularies, caps, preemptive care, health savings accounts, and a wall of jargon make choosing what is the best plan for our families challenging. Dealing with insurance providers in case of illness or injury is an exercise in frustration, especially when a surprise bill from an out-of-network doctor can mean the difference between a health scare with a modest expense or financial ruin.

Of all the coverage gaps and limitations of our current system, however, none has been more glaring than how health insurance is so often tied to our jobs. When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic reached Connecticut, a stay-at-home order left thousands of families in southeastern Connecticut at home without a job. As businesses across the region closed their doors, many of the thousands of laid off or furloughed workers had to worry that they were not just losing their jobs, but also their health coverage. They were left uninsured in the midst of the worst public health emergency in over a century. They were also more likely to be people of color, on low-wage jobs, with little or no savings, and with nowhere to turn.

We should not take this as a given. Our health insurance coverage should not be something that worries us, but something that gives us peace of mind.

The current system has failed to provide us with any sense of security. We need a better alternative. We need a public option.

A public option would help address many of the imbalances and gaps in our health-care system by introducing a solid, reliable, affordable alternative to private health-care plans, providing much needed competition to the current players. Connecticut would leverage their extensive experience managing the largest health insurance plan in the state, its employee plan, to design and supervise a health-care plan focused on providing affordable, reliable coverage. Private plans have little incentive to control costs or think about the long term-care of their members.

With no shareholders breathing down their necks asking for quarterly returns, a public option could focus on creating the kind of coordinated care that patients need.

Small businesses would also benefit from the public option. As a cost-effective, stable alternative to private plans, employers would be able to offer better benefits at a lower cost, either by offering the public option to their workers, or by being able to get better rates from private plans now facing additional competition.

More importantly, a public option would give working families in Connecticut the peace of mind that we want from our health-care system − insurance that is dependable, predictable, and is not attached to our place of employment. A plan that can stay with us and our families in cases of switching jobs, being laid off, or having to take time off work for family reasons.

What we learned this year is that right now health insurance often fails to protect those that need it the most. It is time we change that.

This commentary was submitted by state Reps. Christine Conley, Anthony Nolan and Joe de la Cruz, and by New London Mayor Michael Passero, Groton Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky, and Waterford Selectwoman Beth Sabilia. All are Democrats.

 

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