June 7, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS and CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Courant Staff Writers
Gov. M. Jodi Rell clashed with Democratic leaders over a sweeping health care reform bill on the last day of the legislative session Wednesday, threatening to veto the $390 million package without a new state budget to pay for it.
"I will not sign any bill that beats that process down," Rell said Wednesday afternoon.
Democratic leaders - who have close to a veto-proof majority on their health care plan - vowed to push it through.
In a hastily called news conference Wednesday afternoon, state Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said a comment by Rell's office late Tuesday that the bill was "a colossal waste of time" was insulting to the people of Connecticut.
"Tell the 350,000 people in this state who have no health insurance and the hundreds of thousands more who are insured but can't get access and the Medicaid providers who lose money when they treat patients that this bill is a `waste of time,'" Williams said.
"The governor should stop using the lack of a budget deal as an excuse not to support this effort to expand access to quality, affordable health care in Connecticut," Williams said. He noted that Rell approved a $30 million jobs bill last year before a midterm budget adjustment passed to pay for it. Rell also approved some $200 million worth of reforms in a landmark energy bill last week without a budget, he said.
The health care reform package that passed Wednesday would dramatically expand access to health care for the uninsured and would give doctors and hospitals the state Medicaid reimbursement increases they have been seeking.
But it comes at a price. The legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis said it could cost taxpayers at least $390 million over the next two years, although Democratic proponents said the total cost will not be determined until a budget is finalized.
Lawmakers have conceded that they would not have a spending plan ready by the time the General Assembly concluded its business at midnight, and that they would probably have to return later this month to finalize a budget.
The health care bill passed the state Senate on a 24-12 party line vote, enough to override a veto by the governor. The House of Representatives passed the measure about two hours later in a 96-46 vote that fell short of the vote count needed to override a veto. Nine Democrats were absent, however, raising the possibility that it could pass with the 101-vote veto-proof majority if they were present for a subsequent vote.
House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, expressed confidence Wednesday that the reforms called for in the measure would eventually pass. Amann, one of the bill's main sponsors, defended his decision to call for a vote without a finalized budget.
"You have one day left in the session, you know there is going to be a budget whether it is going to be [Wednesday] or Thursday, it's going to be done," he said. "We know with the strong vote we have up there [in the House] that it is going to be funded, and we wanted to make a strong statement tonight that it's important for the kids of Connecticut."
Amann said a veto sends the wrong message on an issue the governor says she cares about. "If she wants to veto it, that's her prerogative," Amann said. "She may argue the fiscal side of it, but we all know eventually a lot of these programs will be taken care of."
Republican state Sen. David J. Cappiello, the Senate's deputy minority leader from Danbury, framed the Republican Party's opposition clearly.
"I would like to vote for this bill, but because we are doing this in a fiscally irresponsible way, because we don't have a budget, that is unfair," Cappiello said.
The package would increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers at a cost of about $151 million in 2008. It would expand eligibility for parents of children enrolled in state-subsidized HUSKY A health insurance. Parents eligible to enroll their children in HUSKY could have incomes of up to 185 percent of poverty level rather than the current 150 percent. The initiative would cost $17 million in 2008.
The Senate also approved mandatory enrollment of uninsured newborns in HUSKY, with the state paying the premiums for the first two months at a cost of about $2.7 million in 2008.
The bill also expands Medicaid insurance coverage eligibility for pregnant women, from those with household incomes at 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 250 percent, at an estimated cost of $3.5 million in 2008.
The plan calls for increasing eligibility limits for the HUSKY B plan, from households earning 300 percent of the federal poverty level to 400 percent for about $6 million, and expanding state health insurance to qualified adult children up to age 26 at a cost of about $8 million in 2008.
School-based health clinics and community-based health centers would benefit by receiving grants and other financial aid at a cost of $5 million in 2008. The plan also includes preventive care for children, an increased investment in outreach to encourage greater HUSKY enrollment and funding to help develop a statewide system for sharing medical records electronically.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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