On Tuesday night, Mayor Eddie Perez’s Health Insurance Task Force (HITF) began its quest to give thousands of Hartford residents what they have not been able to get from either the State of Connecticut or the Federal government – affordable health insurance.
Perez announced that he would be forming the HITF at his inaugural speech last month. With over 30,000 city residents currently uninsured or under-insured, Perez said Hart¬ford can no longer wait for the State of Connecticut or the federal government to come up with a solution. He has asked the task force to submit a plan to him by the end of this June.
Perez said he wants the HITF to explore three main questions: who are Hartford’s uninsured; what are their primary medical concerns; and what assistance can the private sector provide to the city to help increase the affordability of healthcare.
The HITF is chaired by Carlos Rivera, City of Hartford Director of Health and Human Services. Other members include Dr. Orlando Kirton, MD, Jeanette DeJesus of the Hispanic Health Council, Michelle Zettergen of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Christopher Hartley of Saint Francis Hospital, Kevin Kinsella of Hartford Hospital, Alfreda Turner of the Charter Oak Health Center, Paula Greenberg of Women’s Health USA, Kristen Anderson of Aetna Insurance and Kurt Westby of SEIU Local 32BJ.
DeJesus said her agency has studied the city’s uninsured and found that approximately 13 percent of whites, 21 percent of African-Americans and about 30 percent of Hispanics are currently uninsured or under-insured. She also said that most of the uninsured are employed – and often working more than one job – and most are bona-fide state residents rather than undocumented immigrants.
Hartley said that, based on his experience, including a deductible or co-pay in a healthcare plan for the working poor “will never work...the [healthcare provider will just have to absorb it.” He added that many working people find it difficult to get their healthcare needs addressed at regular hours due to their jobs. As a result, they often go to the emergency room because they know it’s always open. However, using the emergency room for non-emergencies is not, in the long run, beneficial to either the patient or the provider, said Hartley.
Rivera then reviewed the main features of health insurance plans that have been adopted by Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont as well as plans that are being considered in 12 other states (including Connecticut). Kinsella filled the task force in with details on Connecticut’s current debate over the Charter Oak Health Plan that was proposed by Governor Jodi Rell. He said there is currently a bill under consideration that would delay implementation of the Charter Oak plan until certain concerns expressed by some legislators are answered.
“How can we come to a resolution when there is so much uncertainty at the state level?” Kinsella asked.
Perez said, “If we continue to look at the big picture and include what’s going on [in terms of healthcare reform] at the state and federal levels, I’m afraid we may be waiting for a very long time...even if we can only take care of a small piece of the problem, it’s best to get it done and accept that we can’t be all things to all people...we have to reach out to the private sector.”
Kristen Anderson of Aetna then said that her company has programs that are in place in other states that might work for Hartford. At Perez’s request, she agreed to make a presentation of those plans at the next meeting of the HITF.