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Editorial A better path for insurance reform

May 26, 2019

Connecticut had a chance to enact significant health insurance reform this session. As proposed by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the plan would have introduced competition to the health insurance market in the form of a public option, lowering costs and improving benefits.

Initially to be available to small businesses, the plan would have expanded to include all residents based on the insurance available to state employees. With more competition, the system was likely to see prices decline and quality increase as consumers sorted through available possibilities and current carriers were forced to improve their products.

Instead, the state is apparently moving ahead with a measure that makes a promise of lower rates without much in the way of assurances. Rather than a clear road to improved health plans, the Connecticut Option, as it’s being called, takes a much more circuitous path toward better coverage, all apparently in an attempt to show that Gov. Ned Lamont is not anti-business.

The Connecticut Option would be offered by private insurers and designed by consumer advocates and policy experts working with the state. In addition to bringing back the individual mandate to buy insurance, the plan’s backers are promising a 20 percent savings on premiums in what they’re calling a “publicly sponsored competitor” to existing plans.

According to CTNewsJunkie, “If the insurance companies offering plans through the new Connecticut Option don’t meet that benchmark, then the General Assembly could come back and decide to create a true government-run public option.”

All of which raises the question: Why not just go ahead with the original plan and create a public option? It would save time and energy all around.

Lamont made clear in the unveiling of the plan that its backers had worked closely with the insurance industry, which has a huge Connecticut presence, to craft the legislation. Nonetheless, the industry will not support the bill, saying, ludicrously, that it wants to “work with anyone that wants to advance true market-based solutions,” as if those “solutions” hadn’t landed us where we are in the first place.

Creating a true public option does not have to antagonize the insurance industry. The state’s biggest companies hardly operate in the Connecticut health care market, and Lembo’s plan, as originally conceived, would have enlisted a private insurer to manage the new offering.

But this is now a pattern for Lamont. He recently threatened to veto another priority, paid family medical leave, because he wanted the private sector in charge of its operation, not the state. He’s now done the same with the public option, unnecessarily complicating an otherwise good plan and helping send the message that despite his progressive policies, he doesn’t trust the government to get the execution right. It’s a damaging implication.

The state should try to be business friendly. But more importantly, it needs to ensure that all its residents have access to quality, affordable health insurance, no matter who provides it. In truth, that’s about as business-friendly a proposition as could be devised.

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