Conn. Budget Impasse Could Halt Health Care Measure

By | June 7, 2007

Connecticut lawmakers moved closer Wednesday toward providing health insurance to more of Connecticut’s estimated 370,000 people without coverage, but the legislation was threatened by a budget impasse at the Capitol.

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature’s majority Democrats had not reached an agreement on a two-year budget with only hours to go in the session, which was to end at midnight Wednesday. Rell said she would not sign the health care bill without a budget in place.

A special session of the legislature appeared likely.

The Senate passed the health care bill late Tuesday on a 24-12, party line vote. The House approved it just after 2 a.m. Wednesday on a 96-46 vote — not enough to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

Health care reform has been a major issue for both parties. Democrats predicted the legislation would extend insurance coverage to about half of the state’s uninsured. Citing projections by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, Democrats said the bill would cost the state just over $60 million over the next two fiscal years, after federal reimbursements.

The bill falls short of the universal health care system favored by groups that want an affordable government health care program that covers everyone. Instead, it would create two panels to look into that possibility.

“The public demand was for more than new Band-Aids on a health care system struggling on life-support,” said Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, who called the bill “too little, too late.”

“Increasingly, Connecticut residents from all walks of life are looking at our legislators and governor and saying, ‘We want the health care that you have,” he said.

Figueroa’s group favored another bill that would require cities and towns to participate in a state-wide purchasing pool, saying it would move the state closer to universal health insurance. But that plan appeared doomed Wednesday, with many lawmakers worried about the potential financial effect on their municipalities.

The bill that passed would raise income limits for the state’s HUSKY health insurance program for children, expand coverage to pregnant women, provide financial assistance for insurance premiums and increase state Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals. Lawmakers said many people covered by HUSKY are having trouble seeing primary care doctors because of low reimbursement rates.

“It was over 18 years ago that we gave physicians in this state a Medicaid rate increase,” Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said during Tuesday’s debate. “Those same physicians are not seeing kids in HUSKY because HUSKY rates are built on our fee-for-service rates.”

When people covered by HUSKY get sick, they often end up going to the emergency room, which Harp said is the most expensive way to receive health care.

“Connecticut should lead this nation, given our resources, in assuring that everyone has access to health care,” she said.

The bill would also create an authority to develop a system that would cover primary care services and prescription drugs for all Connecticut citizens.

“Nearly a year ago, we set out with the goal of increasing access to quality health care in our state with the eventual objective of providing access to quality health care for everyone in the state,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. “This legislation is an important and critical step toward that objective.”

While Republicans said they supported expanding access to health care, they said the lack of a budget agreement was a major issue. Some also said the bill does nothing to help those who are already insured.

“This bill is good for 3 percent of the population who are not covered right now. This bill ignores the main health care issue that we have _ costs that are spiraling out of control,” said Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, adding that insured residents would shoulder the costs of the legislation.

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