March 15, 2019

Committee advances health insurance 'public option' bill

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

Connecticut small businesses would be able to join the state's health insurance plan, under a piece of legislation that just received a favorable committee vote.

Advocates for the concept, a type of "public option," have argued that small employers would benefit from the state's purchasing power.

A number of states are studying the potential for similar policies.

Connecticut's health plan, which covers approximately 200,000 public workers and their family members, has seen slower cost growth than many commercial health plans, according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who supports a public option.

On Thursday, the Labor and Public Employees committee voted 11-3 to advance Senate Bill 1004 (An Act Concerning Public Insurance Options for Small Business Employees) to the full legislature. The bill would allow small businesses and not-for-profits with 50 or fewer employees to access the state plan.

The legislation faces opposition from health insurance companies.

The Connecticut Association of Health Plans, which includes Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, ConnectiCare, Harvard Pilgrim and United Healthcare, wrote in testimony that the measure would forge "a path to single-payer health care that will likely limit people's choices while increasing taxes and ballooning the state budget."

"While we appreciate the growing frustration with health insurance costs, the unintended negative consequences associated with public option proposals far outweigh their benefits."

The 220,000-member AFL-CIO labor federation supports S.B. 1004, calling it a way to achieve "significant savings small businesses could never achieve alone," as well as a way to improve employee retention.

The Connecticut Citizen Action Group said the bill could help level the playing field for small businesses, which are at a disadvantage to larger employers when it comes to negotiating prices.

"No one can argue the current state of the health insurance market is working for this group of people and the trajectory is only going to get worse," CCAG wrote in testimony.

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