Malloy, Legislative Leaders Still Far Apart On SustiNet Health Reform
By RINKER BUCK
April 06, 2011
HARTFORD —— Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's objections to creating a quasi-independent board to administer Connecticut's proposed SustiNet health care reform can be easily remedied by rewriting the law, Democratic legislative leaders said Wednesday, but no talks are underway to resolve the growing rift between Malloy's office and members of his own party over the plan.
The governor appears to have stunned legislative leaders with his statement Tuesday that he "does not think this particular piece of legislation is the right vehicle" for health reform, in part because he is worried about an Office of Fiscal Analysis report this week that said the cost of providing coverage for the uninsured and the poor could cost the state $483 million annually.
Malloy also said that he had serious concerns about "handing over decision-making responsibility for the state's health care obligations — about 12 percent of the state budget — to a quasi-public authority that has no accountability to taxpayers."
In its current form, the proposed legislation would create a powerful SustiNet Plan Authority with broad powers to oversee $7 billion in state-funded health plans for public employees, Medicaid and Husky beneficiaries, and the uninsured and small-business employees who participate in the plan. Provisions of the present version of the bill would allow the SustiNet authority to determine health benefit levels for state employees.
Aides to the governor said Malloy is concerned about ceding power over that much money in the budget to an outside authority and also questions the wisdom of giving up an important bargaining chip — health benefits — in the midst of sensitive negotiations with public employee unions over closing the state's $3.5 billion budget gap.
"Part of this bill's provisions would weaken the executive branch's ability to manage health care components of the state budget, which would not be prudent at a time of historic budget challenges," said Anne Foley, the undersecretary of the Office of Policy and Management.
Democratic legislative leaders made it clear Wednesday that they have not spoken with the governor and his aides about the bill and appeared confused by his intentions. House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said that he particularly disagreed with Malloy's frequent references to "now is not the time" to adopt health reforms that may add to the state's budget woes.
"The governor has said that 'now is not the time,' " Donovan said. "Well, now is always the time. In the last three days I have spoken with three small businesses in my town who can't afford health care premiums for their employees. In my town, a quarter of the residents are on Medicaid. The changes we are offering through SustiNet will help solve both of these problems and make health care more affordable. Now is the time."
Donovan also said that, with regard to Malloy's position on SustiNet, "I don't know what his motivations are. We just haven't talked about it yet."
Rep. Elizabeth B. Ritter, D-Waterford, co chairwoman of the legislature's public health committee, said: "It's not clear to me what the governor is saying. We would welcome conversations with the governor about SustiNet, but they haven't happened yet. There was no intention that the structure of the [SustiNet] board would cause any change in the governor's ability to conduct labor negotiations."
Malloy's objections to the SustiNet bill also dismayed health care advocates. The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which helped write the SustiNet bill, issued a tart press release Wednesday insisting that, despite Malloy's opposition to the language in the legislation, it is still viable in the General Assembly.
"Contrary to clever obituary reports and negative headlines, SustiNet is alive and kicking," foundation president Juan A. Figueroa said in the release. "SustiNet is the right opportunity, in the right place, at the right time to solve our state's short-and-long-term fiscal and health care challenges."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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