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Is Health Plan Ready?

Hartford Courant Editorial

September 02, 2008

Children enrolled in the state's HUSKY health plan are to begin the transition this week to a new group of managed care organizations, the same ones that will run the governor's new Charter Oak Health Plan for uninsured adults. The big question remains, is the state ready to serve them?

HUSKY, which stands for Healthcare for Uninsured Kids and Youth, has more than 330,000 enrollees and faces major disruption if the answer is no.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell will bear full responsibility if poor children sign up for health care networks that do not include an adequate number of doctors or hospitals to serve their needs. So far, some don't.

We have been supportive of her Charter Oak Health Plan, designed to provide basic coverage to working people who do not qualify for Medicaid but who can't afford standard health insurance. Charter Oak features subsidized premiums and has generated encouraging interest, a sign of need.

But the decision to combine it with HUSKY has proved complicated. Two of the managed care companies that have contracted to run the combined plans lack a presence in the state. Doctors and hospitals have been slow to sign on with the new entities. This raises serious questions about access to care.

As of Aug. 20, about 6,000 people reportedly had applied for Charter Oak, but fewer than 150 had been accepted for enrollment, just seven in Middlesex County, where the transition for HUSKY clients is scheduled to begin today. It's hardly logical to forge ahead on behalf of seven people only to create a logjam of HUSKY clients waiting to see doctors.

The Medicaid Managed Care Council, a regulatory body set up to oversee the state's Medicaid programs, took the unprecedented step recently of appealing to the governor to delay the switch for HUSKY clients until next summer so the networks would have time to flesh out. It's a reasonable request, considering that lack of preparedness will affect so many poor children.

Mrs. Rell has refused to budge, characterizing the request as a move by a tiny minority of legislators and critics who want universal health care no matter what the cost.

But her commissioner of social services, who is implementing the combined Charter Oak/HUSKY plan, made a similar suggestion last spring. In addition, maintaining the status quo where HUSKY clients are concerned could actually save taxpayers money. In order to make the Charter Oak Health Plan attractive to insurers, contracted rates to run the HUSKY program went up considerably.

Mrs. Rell is justifiably proud of being the first Connecticut governor to offer the uninsured an affordable health plan. But if it is not yet ready to accommodate the number of enrollees, it will be of little good. She should swallow her pride and do what's best for the children.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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