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    Sunday, October 01, 2023

    Democrats stand by their state health care reforms

    Republican state Senators Kevin Kelly and Paul Formica recently levelled a bizarre charge against Democrats: that we're supposedly blocking health care reform in Connecticut. In this age of presidential lie counts and allegations of "fake news," it's a baseless allegation that cannot go unchallenged.

    To begin with, Sens. Kelly and Formica ignore what Democrats accomplished this session on health care. With the support of President Biden and our Democratic congressional delegation, health insurance prices in Connecticut are coming down. Since May, the cost of individual health insurance on AccessHealthCT — the state's health insurance exchange — has dropped dramatically. That means lower premiums, co-pays and deductibles for everyone. And since we're currently in the midst of an open enrollment period, you should check out www.accesshealthct.com.

    But we're not just relying on Washington for better health care coverage. This year, Connecticut's legislature voted, on a bipartisan basis, to create a revolutionary new "Covered Connecticut" program that will eliminate premiums and deductibles for people who make too much money to qualify for HUSKY (the state's Medicaid program) but who can't quite afford private insurance. That program will begin in just a few days.

    We're also allowing kids to stay on their parents' dental and vision plans up until age 26 (it's a vital public policy change that 17 Republican legislators voted against, while every Democrat supported it).

    We crunched the numbers and realized that we could save state residents a lot of money if we guarantee children under the age of nine health insurance, and guarantee every pregnant woman in Connecticut prenatal care (it's disturbing to realize that there are pregnant women in Connecticut who can't afford to see a doctor until the moment they walk into the delivery room!)

    Every year, local Connecticut hospitals pick up the tab for as much as $900 million for treating uninsured patients – costs that get passed along to all of us in the "uncompensated care" line of the state budget. Just one preventable pregnancy complication can cost Connecticut residents hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is why expanding coverage to these low-cost, low-risk groups made so much financial sense. And we did it.

    Oddly, Sens. Kelly and Formica don't mention this bill. Perhaps that's because Sen. Formica and a few other Republicans joined Democrats in voting "yes" on the bill, while Sen. Kelly and most other Republicans voted "no."

    Sens. Kelly and Formica also allege that Democrats are blocking a proposal to "benchmark" rising health care costs. They couldn't be more wrong. It was Governor Lamont who proposed benchmarking these costs in his first year in office, and we gave the state Office of Health Care Strategy the funding to do this in the last state budget — a budget which both Sens. Kelly and Formica voted against.

    Sens. Kelly and Formica should also check their computer calendar invitations more often.

    Just about every month for the past two years (even during the pandemic), the Office of Health Strategy has met with legislators of both parties to work on this benchmarking initiative. The most recent meeting was Thursday, June 24. While Republicans from the House of Representatives showed up, not a single Senate Republican appeared; they didn't even send a staffer. If you don't even bother to show up for meetings to discuss health care for Connecticut residents, why are you criticizing the people who do?

    Finally, Sens. Kelly and Formica allege that Democrats are blocking something called "reinsurance." There, we plead guilty. But there's a reason for that. President Biden's American Recovery Act makes reinsurance obsolete, at least for the time being. While the cost of their Republican insurance scheme would be enormous — they propose spending as much as $90 million in taxpayer funds — that money would subsidize the federal government and private insurance companies, saving them money while actually raising premiums, co-pays and deductible costs for Connecticut residents. Why would we want to do that?

    Connecticut has come a long way on health care since 2011, when the legislature voted to create the state Health Insurance Exchange in order to implement the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — in Connecticut. (Sen. Kelly voted "no" on that bill.) The Democrats' commitment to expanding health care coverage and making it more affordable is one of the reasons why Connecticut has one of the lowest uninsured populations of any state in the country — just 5.9%, compared to the national average of 9.2%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    So rest assured, Democrats will continue researching, proposing, debating and passing important health care legislation, no matter what our Republican detractors say.

    State Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) is Senate chair of the insurance and real estate committee. State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) is Senate chair of the appropriations committee.

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