With a health care system that’s already stressed and facing a pandemic that will test all its limits, it’s difficult to think of legislation in the context of “normal” times. But there will be a day when health care returns to something resembling a pre-coronavirus state. And the virus is providing a daily reminder, in case anyone needed one, of all the ways our current health care system falls short.
Exhibit A is insurance. More than a decade after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance remains a problem for people who are not covered by employee plans. The state exchange can work well for those who qualify for subsidies, but too many people who fall outside those limits say the only plans available to them are prohibitively expensive and don’t cover what they need.
Too many health care plans, both employer-based and privately purchased, function more like catastrophic coverage than health insurance. With high deductibles and premiums, they may keep a person who suffers from a surprise illness or accident from losing everything, but they don’t serve to improve their daily health by promoting wellness and prevention.
That needs to change.
Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who knows more about health insurance than maybe anyone else in the state, is again pushing this session a public health insurance option, which would phase in availability in the state employees’ health insurance plan first for small business and, eventually, everyone in the state. It would limit costs by reducing the huge overhead associated with private plans, and improve outcomes with state oversight.
Gov. Ned Lamont has previously supported versions of a public option, but has changed his mind. The insurance industry, which has shrunk but continues to play a dominant role in Hartford political discussions, is vociferously against the proposal, which would function as a competitor with private plans and, if it works, drive down costs for everyone, whether they’re on the public option or not.
No one is questioning that the obstacles are serious. Wrangling enough votes to get its passed would be hard. Getting enough to overcome a possible veto could be insurmountable.
But lawmakers need to try. Everything is on hold as the state endures a lockdown of indeterminate length to weather the coronavirus threat, but this should give legislators time to consider how important it is that everyone in the state have access to quality, affordable health insurance. The public option is a major step in that direction. It’s doable and affordable, and Connecticut could be a trailblazer for the nation. Lawmakers need to make it happen this year.
Before Capitol business went on hold, legislators were taking important steps to improve health care affordability, including by limiting the price people would have to pay for insulin. That’s a necessary move. But the current crisis has shown the need to think bigger. The health care system as it exists often feels as though it’s fraying at the edges, and not delivering what it must to enough people. Taking concrete steps to expand quality coverage is a good way to counteract that.