Opponents of proposed bills to provide a public option in Connecticut have managed to stop the proposal in its tracks.
Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo confirmed midweek that proposed legislation to establish a public option in the state is dead following resistance from major payers.
One payer, in particular, appears to have swayed the decision. According to Lembo, Cigna CEO David Cordani threatened to move the company’s headquarters out of Connecticut, which represented too great a risk for legislators.
“I remain committed to the Connecticut Option but understand that for legislation of this magnitude to be successful, the proposal must leverage the best thinking from all stakeholders, including the carriers,” Lembo said in a statement (via The Middletown Press). “Cigna is a vital piece of Connecticut’s fabric, and I am committed to working collaboratively and constructively with carriers, stakeholders, and advocates, and I encourage other elected officials to respectfully do the same.”
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A spokesperson for Cigna denied the threat, but something significant led to an impasse Tuesday night when legislators and insurance companies negotiated the public option (House Bill 7267/Senate Bill 134).
Earlier this year, Lembo testified in favor of the legislation.
“Connecticut small businesses employ over 700,000 people – almost half the state’s workforce – and yet less than half of small businesses offer health insurance benefits to their employees, a 26-percent decline since 2008, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI),” he said in prepared testimony.
“Many of those who have coverage face outrageous deductibles and premiums,” he continued. “This means that at least a quarter of our workforce has no access to health care in the workplace, even though 82 percent of employees say that health insurance is ‘very’ or ‘extremely important when choosing to stay with their current company versus searching for a new job.”
Lembo’s most recent remarks caught legislators such as Senator Matthew Lesser off guard.
“It was a little premature,” Lesser, co-chairman of the committee that introduced the bill, told the Hartford Courant. “I think it’s fair to say Cigna is more opposed to the bill than some of the other carriers.”
Lesser and fellow legislator Sean Scanlon indicated to the news outlet that Cigna voiced more “displeasure” with the bill than other payers and plans. According to the former, the public health option was the “big flashpoint.”
“The Connecticut Option bill was already watered down from its original version, which would have allowed small businesses to join the state employee health insurance pool of 190,000 people,” reported Christine Stuart of CTNewJunkie.com. Under the version announced at a news conference last week, the bill would have required health insurance companies bidding for an unknown group of businesses and individuals — in a new pool managed by Lembo’s office — to lower premiums by 20 percent.”
“This year, Cigna has no Connecticut customers in the individual market and none in the small group market, so it’s confusing to advocates how the company could have so much power in these negotiations,” Stuart noted.
According to the Courant’s Stephen Singer, leaders from Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, ConnectiCare, Harvard Pilgrim, and UnitedHealthcare urged Lamont in a letter to stop the bill from advancing. The payers called for a more “rigorous review and analysis” before such an option comes into existence.
“Bills of this magnitude, representing a fundamental and material change to insurance market operations and regulation, require careful and thoughtful consideration to avoid unintended consequences that could have a deleterious effect on job growth and economic development,” the executives wrote.
But it was a last-minute call from Cigna that represented the nail in the coffin according to state’s comptroller.
“This is not an existential threat to them,” Lembo maintained. “It’s an ideological threat to the CEO of Cigna.”
The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut echoed Lembo’s sentiments.
“Let’s not underestimate the power of any insurer in the state of Connecticut,” said Lynne Ide, the organization’s director of program and policy. “They are ideologically opposed to anything that moves us toward a public option.”
Date: May 31, 2019
Source: Health Payer Intelligence