Conn. Gov. Rell Unveils Health Insurance Plan

Gov. M. Jodi Rell unveiled a proposal this week that she says will provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to thousands of uninsured adults in Connecticut.

The initiative, called the Charter Oak Health Plan, would be open to adults of all incomes and cost each participant about $250 a month in premiums.

“Good health care really should not be a privilege only to those who have the ability to pay,” Rell said. The Republican governor announced the initiative at a Hartford health care center.

The Charter Oak Health Plan would offer a full prescription drug package with copays ranging from $10 to $15. Enrollees with pre-existing medical conditions would not be restricted from coverage.

There would be no maximum annual benefits, but there would be a lifetime maximum of $1 million of coverage. Laboratory and X-ray services would require a 20 percent copay while copays for prenatal, postnatal and preventive care would be lower than regular office visits to encourage people to receive that care.

The plan also would discourage costly visits to emergency rooms by requiring customers to pay for a portion of the visit if it’s a non-emergency situation.

The proposal, which Rell said will have a minimal cost to the state, comes a week before state lawmakers return to the Capitol for the 2007 legislative session. Some Democrats favor a form of universal health care coverage, where the state covers more of the costs.

Rell said her proposal is not a “big government program.” Rather, it encourages insurance companies to offer The Charter Oak Health Plan as an affordable choice in their offering of health care plans to reach people who otherwise can’t afford coverage.

Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said he’s pleased Rell offered the proposal, but said the state will have to spend more money on health care.

“I think the governor will recognize the state has to make some investment in this in order to stabilize costs for families and businesses,” he said. “If the governor’s plan makes no investment in health care at all, then is it really a plan or is it a repackaging of existing managed care plans that are already out there?”

Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in the House of Representatives and Senate, but Rell said legislative approval is not required.

About 340,000 Connecticut residents — about 10 percent of the population — are uninsured, Rell said. Connecticut already provides coverage to the poor through Medicaid and to children through the HUSKY insurance program.

Rell’s new initiative will help adults who are not eligible for other programs or who do not receive coverage through their employers, the governor said. Participants must be uninsured for at least six months.

The state would not pay for the plan. Rather, it would pay only to promote the plan, which would be offered by insurers.

Michael P. Starkowski, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said he has spoken with insurance executives and they are interested in offering the Charter Oak Health Plan as part of their product offerings. But it is unclear how many uninsured adults would participate and how many insurers would agree to offer it, he said.

“We’re asking the insurers to step up to the plate and take a chance,” he said.

The state hopes to finish a request for participation process with insurance companies in the next 30 to 60 days. Rell said she wants the program operating as soon as possible.

Rell also announced a plan to waive insurance premiums for newborns under the HUSKY program for the first two months to eliminate any possible reason for not enrolling an infant in HUSKY.

Of the 109,025 births in Connecticut hospitals in the past 30 months, 2,776 were not covered by insurance, Rell said.

“That number should be zero — absolutely zero,” she said.

Rell also wants to require parents to notify their school system every year whether their child has health insurance. Currently, parents only provide that information at the beginning of kindergarten and sixth grade. Rell said this new requirement would help schools to refer parents to HUSKY. The state will provide $130,000 to train staff about HUSKY.

Rell plans to set aside less than $10 million for the HUSKY portion of her proposal.