February 28, 2006
By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer
Connecticut could provide health coverage
to every uninsured resident for $343 million annually, just 2.3
percent of the nearly $15 billion spent on health care in the state,
a new study says.
Drawn from fresh research and existing
studies, the report purports to establish for the first time the
cost of total health spending in the state, including caring for
its 356,000 uninsured.
It describes Connecticut as a state of extremes, spending more than
any other state on health for the elderly, yet ranking near the
bottom in care for children, as it forgoes millions in federal health
The Universal Health Care Foundation
of Connecticut will release the report today as it starts to make
the case that universal health care is an affordable solution to
a 5-year trend of health insurance costs rising three times faster
The foundation is releasing the study
with the unabashed goal of focusing this year's gubernatorial and
legislative campaigns on universal health care - the issue that
nearly derailed the Clinton presidency a dozen years ago.
Washington all but abandoned hopes
of sweeping health care changes after the failure in 1994 of Clinton's
Health Security Act, a debacle that some analysts say contributed
to the Democrats' losing Congress that year.
"The states are where it's at
in terms of significant policy changes and looking for creative
ways of dealing with the health access issue," said Juan A.
Figueroa, the foundation's president.
Two future reports will explore models
of universal coverage and how those options could affect the Connecticut
economy, Figueroa said.
The 76-page report, which will be presented
this afternoon to the legislature's insurance and public health
committees, proposes no blueprint, but provides what Figueroa calls
a necessary first step: a detailed map of health spending and insurance
coverage in Connecticut.
Health care spending in the state
now approaches $15 billion annually, with $6.7 billion paid by
employer-sponsored insurance, $6 billion by Medicare and $1 billion
In 2005, $572 million was spent
on care for the uninsured, with 39 percent of the spending by
the uninsured themselves and 11 percent by hospitals and other
health care providers.
Indirect costs, such as lost productivity
by sick workers, are estimated between $652 million and $1.3 billion.
Nationally, family coverage now
costs an average of $10,880 a year, nearly a quarter of the U.S.
median income of $44,389 and more than the entire $10,712 annual
pay of a minimum-wage worker.The report suggests that Connecticut
can afford to do more: As a percentage of its total economy or
state domestic product, Connecticut spends less on health care
than every other state but Nevada, though its health premiums
are among the nation's highest.
As others have noted previously, Connecticut
still forfeits available federal reimbursements, apparently because
it does not provide state matching funds, the report says.
About 1 in 10 Connecticut residents
are uninsured, well below the national average but slightly higher
than other New England states. As was previously reported by the
state Office of Health Care Access, the uninsured typically are
families that earn too much to qualify for public assistance, but
not enough to afford coverage.
Hispanic residents constitute 40 percent
of the uninsured, while making up 10 percent of the population.
The report is the work of three researchers:
Jack A. Meyer of the Economic and Social Research Institute; Jack
Hadley of The Urban Institute; and Jonathan Gruber, an economist
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Figueroa said the foundation has offered
briefings on the report to the campaigns of Republican Gov. M. Jodi
Rell and her two Democratic challengers, John DeStefano Jr. and
Dannel P. Malloy. The Democrats have accepted, as have legislative
leaders from both parties, Figueroa said.
A spokesman for Rell said she has asked
her chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, to be briefed by the foundation.
"Our intention is that we should
have a complete debate, and everything should be on the table,"
said Figueroa, a former state legislator from Hartford. "Ultimately,
the voters must demand a solution - and a comprehensive one. ...
That is the environment we are trying to create."
The United States is the only major
Western nation that does not offer universal health care, a rallying
cry for social justice advocates during the 1990s. But campaign
rhetoric in 2006 is likely to be more about the topic's relation
to a stable economy than to social justice.
"I think the issue is changing,"
DeStefano said. "It will be a focus of ours. But, as much as
anything else, this will be a job growth issue."
The rising cost of health care coverage
is a drag on the economy and a source of labor strife, such as the
current strike at Sikorsky Aircraft over the company's efforts to
have workers bear an increased share of health costs.
"I think it is turning into an
issue of not only insuring the uninsured, but helping those who
have insurance retain it," DeStefano said. "I think it
is going to be a powerful issue."
Malloy, whose first major campaign
proposal was a plan to cover uninsured children, said, "Obviously,
I am sympathetic."
Rich Harris, a spokesman for the Rell
campaign, said Rell already has made proposals to maximize federal
reimbursements and to broaden the state's childhood immunization
Harris said health care coverage
will be a campaign priority for Rell: "It is an area where
she knows action is required."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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