Hold on…Now let me see if I understand what you are saying….

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Pick up any newspaper and you are bound to see at least one story about the impact of budget cuts and another about how state governments are giving money away to private companies in an attempt to convince them to create or retain jobs.

It is quite a commentary about our times.  A lack of adequate funding means people who work for schools, hospitals and nonprofit providers of human services are or will be losing their jobs, while taxpayer continue to provide the money that is being used to try and persuade businesses to pledge that they will create or keep private sector jobs.

True, it may not be the notoriety that we want, but you certainly can’t say that Connecticut hasn’t become the epitome of this paradox.

For example, earlier this week, Wait What? readers were provided an opportunity to read two posts, one entitled Has it come to this…? and another entitled And while cutting essential services, Malloy gives $100,000 to a Stamford Brewery.

The first post reported on a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece by a father lamenting Governor Malloy’s cut to essential programs that help Connecticut’s developmentally disabled residents while the second was about the Governor’s visit to a brew pub in Stamford to celebrate a $100,000 taxpayer-funded grant that the Malloy Administration was giving to help the brew pub expand.

The two stories served to enlighten readers about the reality of our times or the juxtaposition between an era where we are cutting vital services while providing private companies with what some would call economic development incentives and what others would refer to as corporate welfare.

What I failed to report was that, in addition to the brew pub, Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), Catherine Smith, were actually visiting three other companies around the state that day.  All four of the companies were receiving funds thanks to the State’s Small Business Express Program (EXP).

Over the past eighteen months, the Small Business Express Program has given out more than $80 million.  According to state officials, the program has helped “create and retain more than 7,600 jobs.” The Legislature will soon be voting to give the Governor an additional $60 million for this program.

In addition to Stamford’s Half Full Brewery, Malloy was visiting Atlantic Canvas and Awning (a company that received a loan of $50,000 and a matching grant of $10,000); Automotive Core Recycling (a company that recycles and sells catalytic converters and other auto parts and received a $250,000 loan) and Katalina’s (a cup cake bakery that received a loan of $30,000 to add equipment and furnishings to their new retail shop).

According to the Department of Economic and Community Development, the $50,000 loan and $10,000 grant “support the creation of three new jobs and retained four,” the $250,000 loan translated into one new position and retained 8 jobs, while the $30,000 loan to the bakery “created one full time job and retained two full time and two part time jobs.”

The Governor’s press release that day announced that the Small Business Express Program has already created or retained more than 1400 jobs in 2013.

Meanwhile that distraught and frustrated father, along with the others who care for Connecticut’s developmentally disabled, try to cope with Governor Malloy’s $6 million cut to employment and day service programs.

Actually, that $6 million cut was part of a much bigger list of cuts Governor Malloy ordered last November 28, 2012.   That day, back in November, Governor Malloy announced $170 million in budget rescissions.

The press release didn’t actually quote Governor Malloy. Instead the task of explaining the cuts was left to Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director.  Barnes wrote, “Many of these cuts are very difficult to make, especially now when so many residents continue to struggle in a tough economy, But as painful as they are, cuts are necessary to keep this year’s budget in balance.  State government needs to live within its means.”

The November list included a wide variety of reductions including a $53,000 cut to the Division of Criminal Justice’s Shooting Task Force; a $200,000 cut to the Jobs First Employment Service Program, a $488,000 cut to the state’s Environmental Quality Program; a $335,000 cut to the Department of Health’s Community Health Services Program and $41,000 cut to their Genetic Diseases Program; a $433,000 cut to the state’s Community Mental Health  Centers, a $2.3 million cut to home care services that keep people out of more expensive nursing homes and hospitals and the list goes on and on.

More recently, the state budget plan that Governor Malloy proposed a month ago continued those cuts.  In fact, his new budget makes even deeper cuts to a variety of vital and essential services.

So how is it possible that a Governor would be instituting record budget cuts while giving away record amounts of taxpayer funds to private businesses?

Truth be told, it is the difference between how the State operating budget works compared to the way the State Capital or Bond budget functions.

Even in the desperate times, the Capital budget continues to pump out cash.

The State’s operating budget is paid for with tax dollars.  The State’s Capital Budget is funded via the state’s credit card.

Because we are borrowing the money and then paying the amount (plus interest) back over twenty years, the argument is that cutting the Capital Budget won’t help to balance this year’s operating budget.  This year’s operating budget is still facing a $135 million plus deficit despite the terrible cuts instituted by the Governor and the additional cuts approved by the General Assembly.

Although Connecticut already has the highest per capita debt burden in the nation, since the word “deficit” applies to the operating budget and not the Capital Budget, we end up with a situation in which vital services are cut at the same time money is being handed out.

In fact, if Governor Malloy gets his way, we’ll see more cuts to essential services and more layoffs of hospital and human service workers in the coming months, and at the same time, the General Assembly will be allocating even more money for the Governor to hand out to the private sector.

Define fiscally and morally irresponsible? Malloy’s plan for older, retired teachers.

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There are a lot of crazy, irresponsible and down-right mean things in Governor Malloy’s budget proposal, but his plan to totally eliminate Connecticut’s contribution to the retired teachers’ health insurance fund may very well take the cake.

For nearly sixty years, the State of Connecticut has been helping retired teachers acquire health insurance. 

Prior to 1986, active teachers did not pay into the Federal Medicare system, so when they retired, they didn’t qualify for Medicare, the primary health insurance system for older Americans. 

Furthermore, since teacher salaries were historically so low prior to the educational enhancement act of 1986, older teachers were retiring with very small pensions.  With no Medicare and limited incomes, few could afford the most basic level of health insurance coverage, without some type of subsidy.

For nearly 4 decades, the State of Connecticut utilized a variety of different mechanisms to help these older, retired teachers get some health insurance.  In 1991 it settled on the creation of the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund. 

To fund the program, active teachers contribute 1.2 percent of their income into the health fund.  This year that amounts to about $45 million.

The premiums that retired teachers pay for their insurance brings in about $37 million.

And state law required that the State of Connecticut contribute 33 percent of the cost of a Medicare supplement plan into the Insurance Fund.

Together these funds were used to help retired teachers get health insurance through the Teacher’s Retirement Board or through their last employing board of education.  The subsidy isn’t much, only $110 per month, and despite the massive increase in health insurance premium costs, the subsidy hasn’t been increased since 2000.  The Teachers Retirement Board has determined that the $110 subsidy “now covers “on average” only 14% of the monthly premium for the retiree, further eroding the value of the retiree’s pension.

But as bad as things have become, even the $110 helped a little as these retired teachers were forced to shell out of their own pockets an additional $500 to $900 a month to buy insurance through their former boards of education.

Meanwhile, some towns are engaging in a whole separate effort to change the rules and unfairly force teachers off their municipal plans, but I’ll cover that growing problem under a separate post.

In any case, for good or for bad, the present system has been functioning fairly well. 

And then to balance the state budget in Fiscal year 2010 and 2011, Governor Rell and the Democrats decided to insert language that allowed the state to forgo any contribution for two years.  The lack of funding created a situation that began to derail the financial stability of the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund. 

When Governor Malloy was sworn in, rather than recommit the state to the appropriate level of funding, he proposed shifting the burden onto the backs of the retired teachers.  The Legislature rightfully rejected the move, but “compromised” by agreeing to only allocate 25% of the value of a Medicare supplement plan rather than the 33% required by the law.

While the state did deposit $35 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and $18 million in Fiscal Year 2013, by refusing to deposit the appropriate amount the Fund was, yet again, undermined.

And then came this year…

Malloy went for broke and proposed simply making no payments what-so-ever into the fund.

Irresponsible
Outrageous
Inappropriate
Incredible
Breathtaking

This Governor, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, proposing that the state simply forgo putting $70 million into the Retired Teachers Health Insurance Fund.

Here are the facts;

In 2012 the Teacher Retirement Board health plan was serving 18,804 retired teachers

In 2012, the Teacher Retirement Board was also paying the town subsidy on behalf of 16,725 retired teachers.

The average age of the retired teacher on the Teacher Retirement Board’s plan is 75 years old.

These teachers received a $0 cost of living adjustment in their pensions in 2010 and 2011.

The Governor’s plan is simply outrageous.

Oh, and by the way, the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee is holding a public hearing today on Malloy’s Teachers Retirement Health Care proposal.

Appropriations Committee Public Hearing

Thursday, February 21
Elementary & Secondary Education (Room 2D)
2:00- 2:30 PM Teachers’ Retirement Board
2:30- 3:00 State Library
3:00- 4:30 Department of Education
Public Budget Hearings (Room 2C) 6:00 PM

Hello? Anybody home?

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Governor Malloy issued a call for a Special Session of the Connecticut General Assembly to deal with the growing state deficit.

That Session is taking place today.

The State Senate and State House or Representatives convened at 10:00 am and then recessed until 4:30 pm so that elected officials could attend funerals and memorial services resulting from the Newtown Elementary School Massacre.

When they reconvene at 4:30 pm, a joint session of the Legislature will be held so Governor Malloy and Legislators can hold their own memorial service in honor of those who lost their lives in Newtown.

And then the legislature is scheduled to debate and vote on a plan to resolve Connecticut’s $415 million budget deficit.

Governor Malloy has already made $123 million in cuts, mostly to social services and Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.  The cuts to UConn, Connecticut State University and the Community Colleges come on top of Malloy’s previous cuts to our public institutions of higher education, which were already the deepest in Connecticut history.

As the Hartford Courant noted in today’s edition,” Legislative leaders declined Tuesday to discuss the specifics of the budget deal, which was hammered out in a series of meetings last week

However, as the CTMirror is reporting, the non-partisan Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, located at the University of Connecticut, has issues a report today noting that balancing the state budget exclusively with spending cuts could be the final straw that breaks Connecticut’s economic back, pushing it back into recession.

In a report about next year’s $1.2 billion deficit, the economists said that an “all-cut” budget could “trigger as many as 25,000 annual job losses between the public and private sectors combined.”

So, when our elected officials vote tonight, what type of budget reduction plan will they be voting on?  Will it be all cuts or a combination of cuts and taxes?  What programs are being cut and what taxes are being increased?

Will our legislators be voting to cut essential social services?

Will our legislators be voting to ensure that the wealthy finally start paying their fair share in state income taxes?

Will our legislators be voting to borrow money to pay for current expenses?

Will our legislators be voting on a plan that will mean higher local property taxes?

There have been no public hearings on this plan.

The discussions have been held behind closed doors.

According to the House Republican leader, Representative Cafero, the “tentative” agreement, is “truly a compromise.”

After speaking with legislators, the CTNewsjunkie explained that the compromise “means Democrats and Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted as they attempted to reach a deal on how to close the budget deficit estimated at $365 million to $415 million.”

“It relies more heavily on spending cuts than we would have liked,” the Speaker of the House told reporters as he left the closed-door caucus where Democratic legislators were briefed on this secret plan.

The Hartford Courant added, “Lawmakers are set to vote today on a plan to close a state budget deficit by scrapping longevity bonuses for nonunion state workers in favor of a new compensation formula and cutting payments to hospitals, among other measures.”

The state does provide hospitals with funds to help off-set care that the hospitals provide to non-insured people.  However, massive cuts to hospitals would definitely threaten the level of services at some hospitals and lead to a major shift in costs from those state grants to those who are insured.  That cost shift will translate into higher health insurance premiums for those of us who have insurance.    So is the legislature’s vote going to push our health insurance premiums higher?  Is that fair?

And cutting out longevity bonuses for non-union workers is certainly understandable, but it solves about 1% of the $400 plus million state budget deficit.

So where are cuts coming from?

While action is definitely needed to bring Connecticut’s budget deficit under control, passing a “plan” that has never seen the light of day is not only incredibly inappropriate, but it is down-right unfair and undemocratic.

This plan, if it looks like the “road-map” proposed by Governor Malloy, will cut deeply into some of the most vital and essential services the state of Connecticut provides our most vulnerable citizens.

Malloy’s budget road map looked like something that would be put out by a Republican governor, not a solution based on the values and ideals of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps the secret plan will be fantastic.

Perhaps the secret plan will be a disaster.

But voting on the plan without telling the media and the people what is in it is bad news for Connecticut.

The people of our state deserve better.

Wyman Says: SustiNet is dead… Dead I tell you… DEAD!

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Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Think Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol;

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner…You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail…This must be distinctly understood…”

When Governor Malloy’s new Health Care Cabinet met earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who had helped to lead the SustiNet effort and was once one of its greatest champions, took great pains to ensure that no one – no one – thought that SustiNet was anything but dead.

Wyman proclaimed that “SustiNets not around anymore, there is no SustiNet.”

In fact, Wyman and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who served as Connecticut’s Health Care Advocate at the time, were the co-chairs of the SustiNet Health Partnership Board of Directors that created SustiNet.

Their board worked for more than a year and a half developing what was recognized as a profound step forward in the battle to provide greater access to affordable, high quality health care in Connecticut.

When the SustiNet Plan was finalized last December, Lembo said that “this report provides the General Assembly with a roadmap for reform – and propels Connecticut to the forefront in addressing a nationwide health care and financial crisis.”

This extraordinary victory did not come easily.

The legislation creating the SustiNet Board of Directors and laying out the process for developing Connecticut’s healthcare reform plan was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2009.

The Democratic Legislature took the unprecedented action of overriding that veto and setting in to motion the steps that would eventual lead to the SustiNet plan.

Last December, on the day the SustiNet Board was adopting its final report, a rally was held in Hartford.

Dan Malloy, then the Governor-Elect, spoke at the rally.  As he did during his campaign for Governor he credited his mother for his lasting commitment to universal health care.

Speaking to the crowd, Malloy said that “it was through her eyes and her advocacy that I think much of my commitment to making sure that all of our neighbors have access to quality health care really arouse.”

Surrounded by health care reform proponents and religious leaders, Malloy pointed out that SustiNet represented Connecticut’s move toward universal health care.  The Governor to be added “I’m not sure we’re at the top of the mountain, where we see the promise land but we know the promise land exists or at least a substantial portion of that which is necessary to provide the promise land is just around the corner,”

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, another leading voice in the battle for SustiNet also spoke at the rally calling it “an impressive sight” and pointing out how much had changed over the last few years.

Pointing to the next governor, the next lieutenant governor and all the clergy and said “I remember a couple years ago when the clergy wanted to meet with the governor and the governor then refused,”

Now, 10 months later, SustiNet is dead….

Dead as a doornail.

At this week’s Health Care Cabinet Meeting, Dan Malloy’s special advisor on health reform, Jeannette DeJesús worked to put all that in the past saying “There’s a lot of new things happening that we need to consider, there are lots of new opportunities, and there are lots of people who want to play that have not participated in the past. Our goal is to really be inclusive at every turn.”

New things, new opportunities, lots of people who want to play a role?

But despite the thousands of hours spent developing the SustiNet plan, there was no discussion about what elements of the old plan were so terrible that the SustiNet plan needed to be trashed.

Was it the effort to leverage Connecticut’s tremendous buying power to lower healthcare premiums for people whose healthcare is funded by taxpayers?

Was it the effort to create a system in which municipalities, non-profit organizations and small businesses could buy healthcare at a lower cost?

Was it the focus on lowering costs for everyone by making greater use of electronic medical records, preventative treatment initiatives or promoting cutting edge care in patient homes?

Or was it the creation of a “public option”, which was scheduled to begin in 2014 and would have provided health care insurance for the tens of thousands of Connecticut’s uninsured residents- an option that would have be financed by premium payments and federal tax credits and would not have required significant state subsidies.

Everyone in the room knew, but few would say, that part of the problem was that the SustiNet plan had gotten caught up in the recent Malloy/SEBAC agreement when, as a result of poor communication by both the state unions and the Malloy Administration, opponents of the concession deal interpreted the proposed health care changes as part of a secret plan to use SustiNet to undermine the state employee’s
health care plan.

But of course, that problem could have easily been resolved.

What could not be easily resolved was the strong opposition from Connecticut’s health care industry.

And since that opposition was very real and politically significant, the Governor’s new Health Care Cabinet did what it had to do and simply skipped over the true reason SustiNet was killed.

In the end the real problem was that here, in what was once the “Insurance Capital of the World”, if the SustiNet System worked as it was designed to do then health care premiums would drop and if health care premiums dropped, insurance company profits might drop as well.

In a year when Dan Malloy gave Cigna Insurance company almost $50 million in public funds to “move” its corporate headquarters back to Connecticut and create at least 250 jobs, whacking the insurance industry’s bottom line was hardly the message some wanted to send.

And equally important was the fact that SustiNet would allow a variety of entities to buy their health insurance through one of the state’s pools or plans.  Many chambers of commerce, especially the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, make their money by selling insurance to their members.

Giving small businesses another option for getting insurance, even if it mean cheaper insurance for businesses and their employees would have had a devastating impact on the ability of business groups to fund their activities.

So yes, SustiNet is Dead.  It was killed by some of the very people who helped create it in the first place.

Go to CTNewsJunkie’s archives for a great set of stories describing the rise and fall of SustiNet:   http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/taglist/SustiNet

When Will Consumers Learn – It’s not all about them!

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Today’s leading Wait. What? story comes via CTNewsjunkie who cover the news that despite repeated requests from Connecticut healthcare advocates to make sure consumers are represented on the new and
powerful Health Insurance Exchange Board, neither the Governor nor legislative leaders saw fit to appoint even one consumer representative on the new 14 member board.

As required by federal health care reform (aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare) each state must set up a Health Insurance Exchange Board to coordinate the development of that state’s healthcare exchanges which are the mechanism to expand access to health care insurance starting in 2014.

As CTNewsjunkie explained “All of the 14 individuals are either members of Malloy’s administration, former insurance company executives, or individuals with political connections, none, aside from the non-voting state Healthcare Advocate, are consumer advocates.”

The fact that Connecticut’s elected officials included insurance industry executives but failed to put on a single voting healthcare advocate is particularly bizarre since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expressly requires consumer representation and prohibits the appointment of exchange members who are affiliated with the insurance industry.

Governor Malloy had two appointments to the new exchange board and put on Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Mary Fox (a retired Aetna executive).

Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams appointed Cece Woods, the former Deputy Chief of Staff and Research Director for the Senate Democrats.

Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan appointed Bob Tessier, a former union organizer for SEIU-1199 and presently the director of the Connecticut Coalition of Taft-Hartley Funds which oversees health funds for unionized workers.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Martin Looney appointed Dr. Robert Scalettar, who recently retired as medial director for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and House Democratic Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey appointed Dr. Grant Ritter (an academic healthcare researcher who is also the spouse of State
Representative Betsy Ritter).

Republican Senate Leader John McKinney appointed Mickey Herbert, the retired president and CEO of ConnectiCare and Republican House Leader Larry Cafero appointed Michael Devine, CEO of Earth Energy Alliance (Perhaps Cafero thought it was the Energy Exchange Board he was making the appointment to and not the group responsible for developing a major piece of Connecticut’s healthcare reform effort).

Automatic members of the new board are Ben Barnes (OPM). Jewell Mullen (Commissioner of Public Health), Roderick Bremby (Commissioner of Social Services).

Non-voting members include Thomas Leonardi (Commissioner of Insurance), Vicky Veltri (Healthcare Advocate) and Jeannette DeJesus (Deputy Commissioner of Public Health and Malloy’s Healthcare reform Advisor).

While healthcare advocates expressed shock, anger and frustration the best quotes (or non-quotes) of the day came from those who made the appointments.

Jeannette DeJesus, Malloy’s point person on healthcare reform defended the governor saying that “he filled his positions based on the legislative requirements…He stuck to the letter of the law.”

In addition, according to the legislation, “McKinney was supposed to appoint an expert in health care access issues faced by self-employed individuals, and Cafero was to appoint an expert in barriers to individual health care coverage. Donovan was responsible for appointing a health care benefits plan administrations expert, while Looney was to appoint an expert in health care delivery systems. Sharkey was to appoint a health care economics expert and Williams was to appoint a health care finance expert.”

But when CTNewsjunkie looked for an explanation of how appointments could have been made that were so different from what was required “neither lawmakers or the administration were willing to comment.”

Meanwhile, one of Connecticut’s leading consumer healthcare advocates, Jennifer Jaff,  was quoted as saying “I am appalled that nobody thought to appoint someone who would represent consumers’ interests, especially in light of the express language in the federal regulations” adding that it is “Another example of Connecticut consumers getting the shaft when it comes to health insurance issues.”

Well said Jennifer.

Hooray for Transparency… Oh wait, not that kind of transparency….

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Yesterday Democratic Legislative Leaders quietly announced that they had reached an “agreement” with the Malloy Administration on the bill that was once known as An Act Concerning The Rate Approval Process For Certain Health Insurance Policies.

Originally known as Senate Bill #11, the legislation passed the Connecticut State Senate 36-0 and the House of Representatives 131-14.

The bill established a public hearing process for when individual and small employer group health insurance companies and HMOs sought rate increases of 10 percent or more.

It required that Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate and Attorney General be parties to any insurance rate increases hearings, increased the amount of time required before a new rate can take effect, mandated the Insurance Department post rate filings on its website and provided the public with a 30-day comment
period.

Supporters of the initiative included all the major Democratic Legislative leaders, Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate, ConnPIRG, Citizens for Economic Opportunity, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, the Connecticut Working Families Party, the CT AFL-CIO and the Connecticut’s leading advocate for those facing serious illnesses, a group called Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness.

Opponents included all the major insurance associations including the America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Insurance Association of Connecticut, the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the American Council of Life Insurers and Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield (the entity that had sparked the need for the law when they had requested and almost got last year’s record-breaking premium increases).

But despite heavy lobbying, in the end, the Democrats (and Republicans) supported the transparency and consumer protection legislation.

And then Governor Malloy, who had strongly opposed the huge Anthem increase last year stunned the proponents and advocates by vetoing the bill.

At the time Malloy said, “The Connecticut Department of Insurance already conducts an objective actuarial analysis of each and every rate increase request… The current process fully protects Connecticut’s residents from excessive and discriminatory rate increases.”

For an earlier post on the topic see my blog on Malloy’s veto: http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/the-power-of-vengeance%e2%80%a6malloy-strikes-back-at-the-unions-at-progressives-at-the-public/

Yesterday a press release from the Democratic leaders announced that rather than attempt to override the Governor’s veto, “the legislature and executive branch are working together to achieve a common goal – greater transparency and public input in the rate increase approval process for health insurance.

The agreement does allow the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) to request that the Insurance Commissioner hold a hearing on rate increases, but only if the increase is at least 15 percent or higher rather than the 10 percent threshold that was included in the legislation.

The agreement also appears to limit the number of hearings to no more than 4 a year.

While the press release is a bit short on details, the agreement appears to relieve the Insurance Commissioner from having to adopt any rules or regulations concerning the definition of when a rate increase is considered excessive or discriminatory.

Some other aspects of the legislation also seem to have disappeared.

The Governor’s website makes no mention of the agreement; however, the press release put out by the Senate Democrats does include the traditional array of self-congratulatory quotes.

Senate President Don Williams said “The General Assembly overwhelming approved Senate Bill 11 because its members believe in the importance of changing the way rate hikes are approved…The Governor shares our concerns and is working with us to immediately improve the process.”

House Speaker Chris Donovan said, “We passed this bill after hearing from thousands of residents facing unconscionable increases in their insurance premiums-small businesses, self-employed individuals and those looking for work-folks who have no leverage to negotiate with the big insurance companies. That is why I am pleased that Governor Malloy and Commissioner Leonardi have agreed to a compromise that will allow public hearings and the participation of the Healthcare Advocate in the rate approval process.”

And Governor Malloy concluded that “This compromise will ensure that consumers have a voice in proposed insurance rate increases without compromising the health and competitiveness of the state’s insurance industry.”

And with that, the drive for transparency takes another step forward followed by another step backwards.

The Power of Vengeance…Malloy Strikes Back (at the unions, at progressives, at the public?)

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Governor Dan Malloy vetoes one of the more important Health Care Consumer Laws of the last decade.

SB 11: AN ACT CONCERNING THE RATE APPROVAL PROCESS FOR CERTAIN HEALTH INSURANCE POLICIES.

It was a powerful tool put forward last year by then Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo as a way to make sure the public interest was heard when insurance companies asked for rate increases of greater than 10 percent.

It required a series of public hearing when insurance companies sought approval for gigantic rate increases.

This year it passed the House 131 to 14.

It passed the Senate 36 – 0.

It passed the Appropriations Committee – with the Republicans voting no.

It passed the Insurance Committee – with the Republicans voting no.

It was sponsored by such notables as Senate President Williams and Senators Looney, Slossberg, Prague, Meyer and LeBeau, (some of the most moderate members of the Senate).

Other co-sponsors included Representatives Willis, Grogins and Nardello.

This year’s version had the strong support of Victoria Veltri, the Acting Healthcare Advocate, who took over when Kevin Lembo became State Comptroller.

State Senator Martin supported the bill saying “I believe that our state would benefit most if Connecticut’s rate review system met the federal requirements such that Connecticut would be permitted to perform its own rate review rather than having the reviews done by HHS.”

Other supporters included ConnPIRG, Citizens for Economic Opportunity, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, the Connecticut Working Families Party, the CT AFL-CIO and the Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness – Connecticut’s leading advocate for those facing serious illness.

On the other hand, big business came out with all guns blazing.  The regional director of America’s Health Insurance Plans spoke against the bill (the nation’s primary lobbying entity for the insurance industry).

Other industry organizations against the bill included the IAC (Insurance Association of Connecticut), the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the American Council of Life Insurers and Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield (who had requested and almost got last year’s record-breaking premium increases).

And then last Friday – hours before the long weekend was to begin – when media coverage was sure to be limited – Governor Dan Malloy came to the rescue of the insurance industry.  He took out his veto pen – for the first time – and used it to veto this important legislation ensuring his commitment to greater transparency was – once again – nothing but empty rhetoric.

Malloy’s rationale; “The Connecticut Department of Insurance already conducts an objective actuarial analysis of each and every rate increase request… The current process fully protects Connecticut’s residents from excessive and discriminatory rate increases.”

mmmm… I vaguely remember candidate Malloy trying to make a campaign issue of Anthem’s outrageous rate increase request last year…

More to come…

Yet Again – Connecticut Is Working Toward Its New Motto: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

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Arielle Levin Becker of the CTMirror had a “must read” story last Friday about the end of the State Medical Assistance Program for Noncitizens.

As she reports, two years ago the Connecticut State Legislature eliminated the program that provides health care coverage for newer non-citizen state residents who are over age of 21.

A subsequent lawsuit led to a court order stopping the State from implementing the new law but earlier this year the State Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and Connecticut’s Department of Social Services is now ending health care coverage for almost 5,000 Connecticut residents.

You can almost hear some people saying “That will teach those non-citizens a lesson.”

But before people breakout the champagne, remember that ending basic low-cost health insurance for 5,000 people will lead to two things.  First, since emergency rooms must legally treat anyone who walks in, some of these newly uninsured will end up going to emergency rooms where what would be a $25 clinic visit becomes a $500 ER visit.  Secondly, since many of these people will end up postponing treatment, some will not only end up in the emergency room but will then have to be admitted meaning thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs.

So, as a result of the state’s uncompensated care payments to hospitals and the cost shift that takes place for non-state compensated care, proposals like these often cost society as much, if not more, than it would have if the government simply allowed people to get the community based clinic care they need.

The Malloy Administration points out that anyone losing their health care insurance can attempt to get coverage under the Charter Oak Health Plan, which former Governor Rell championed, but the premiums as so high that it is hard to believe that many of these 5,000 people will be able to get coverage.

And to those who say, “Hey, times are tough, budget cuts are needed, we simply can’t afford to spend money on  providing some type of health care to non-documented immigrants (aka non-citizen state residents) and Connecticut is not alone in cutting off care for these types of people, well, it is true that Massachusetts is now looking to follow Connecticut’s lead on this issue, but Vermont went in exactly the other direction and included non-citizen residents in their landmark health care reform law because they were convinced that not only was it the right thing to do but it was the economically correct thing to do as well.

But here in Connecticut, where pennywise and pound foolish is becoming the norm, we can feel like we really showed those immigrants a thing or two, even if we end up having to pay more for our vengeance.

Ode to SustiNet: Yet Another Wait, What? Moment…

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

CTNewsjunkie posted another must-read story last night about the Democratic efforts to ease concerns that the Malloy/SEBAC agreement is somehow related to Connecticut’s comprehensive healthcare reform law.  (see Wyman Seeks to Clarify SustiNet Rumors)

Rumors have been circulating that SustiNet (Connecticut healthcare reform) and the union agreement are related.  State employees even received an email from a fake state employee making that statement.

As has been noted on this blog and in many other places, people can come up with reasons to vote against SustiNet or against the SEBAC agreement; but saying they are connected is not one of them.

In any case, the Malloy Administration and the Legislative Democrats joined the effort yesterday to persuade state employees that, in fact, the truth is the truth and SustiNet does not pave the way for the concession agreement and the concession agreement does not pave the way for SustiNet.

Part I of their effort came in the form of an email from Nancy Wyman to all state employees re-stating the fact that the two issues are not connected.

Part II was quite a bit more bizarre.

Think of the child who says to his or her parents “If you don’t buy me that IPod I will hold my breath until I turn blue.”

Or the bank robber who walks into the bank, puts the gun to his or her own head and says “If anybody moves I will pull the trigger.”

As CTNewsjunkie reports, “In what is a rare move the General Assembly recommitted the SustiNet bill in order to send a message to those trying to use it to defeat the $1.6 billion union concession package…”   Recommitting a bill sends it back to committee and prevents that particular bill from being considered again during the legislative session.

According to the story, Democratic leaders “didn’t want anything they were doing to interfere with the decision 45,000 union members will be asked to make about their health care and pension benefits.”

The irony being that SustiNet was and is a very important piece of legislation.  Advocates for healthcare reform have been working for years to ensure Connecticut is at the forefront of the effort to reform our of control health care insurance system.  However, rather than trust state employees to understand that the state employee agreement is not related to SustiNet, they just voted to kill SustiNet, throwing away the opportunity to actually do something about the rising costs of healthcare insurance.  (Go figure.)

Meanwhile, in a more direct effort to explain the situation to state employees, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman sent an email to the employees explaining the facts.

Wyman wrote, “the proposed changes to our healthcare coverage are not in any way related to SustiNet, or to the federal healthcare reform that became law last year…Our benefits will continue to be provided by Anthem or Oxford under the plan we selected during open enrollment.”

So when all is said and done, the truth is the truth…SustiNet and the SEBAC agreement are not related.

In case people missed the point – SustiNet and the SEBAC agreement ARE NOT related!

Oh, and meanwhile, for those who are shocked to see the SustiNet legislation go up in smoke, it is important to note  that (1) as a result of Governor Malloy’s surprising opposition to the very concepts he had previously supported during the campaign, the present SustiNet bill has been so watered-down that it is but a shadow of its once impressive initiative and (2) the Malloy Administration already developed an Executive Order on
SustiNet back in the first week of April. The order, which only covers the minimal items that Malloy will support can then be issued once the Malloy/SEBAC agreement is resolved.  In that way, Malloy is not only able to subvert the SustiNet healthcare legislation, but can come out on top claiming that he and he alone has been able to keep the healthcare reform process going.  It is what is called a “win/win” move.

Finally, the piece de résistance of the last day of maneuvering is how Lt. Governor Wyman ended her email to state employees.  Wyman’s final line to Connecticut’s state employees reads “thank you for the good work you do every day. Governor Malloy and I are grateful for your service.”

This, coming less than 24 hours after Malloy once again threatened Connecticut’s state employees, saying, “We will lay people off on a large scale for which I will not feel responsible,” and noted that the layoffs will include employees with far greater than 10 years of state service.

It reminds me of the school bully who beats up a kid every day for their lunch money and then says “by the way, I’m grateful that you come to school every day.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

State Employees – You Are Being Had….

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Christine Stuart Photo, CT Newsjunkie

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

And being had by Democrats no less…

Respect for the collective bargaining process?

Democratic Governors all over the country saying that they are being forced to go after state employees in order to balance state budgets but, unlike Republicans, they are respecting the collective bargaining process.  Connecticut’s governor even got a standing ovation at the recent state Democratic dinner for that line.

And getting concession packages that are negotiated across the bargaining table certainly sounds like a fair process…

But what do you call it when the Democratic Administration repeatedly claims that there isn’t any  money… only to reveal afterwards that they
were wrong and, in fact, there are not only tens of millions but hundreds of millions in extra funds that “they weren’t aware of.”

Look, I don’t know how state employees should vote on the budget concession, but I’ll tell you one thing, they are being lied to…in a big way.

Keith Phaneuf, of the CT Mirror has a blockbuster story today about how state officials have suddenly discovered that the account that pays for health insurance premiums for retired workers has an ‘extra” $100 million… $100 million that they only discovered in the last 20 days.

So, after the concession package was finalized, after the Democrat’s adopted the new state budget that included $2 billion in employee concessions, after the word went out that if this package isn’t approved by the membership there will be chaos, the Malloy Administration has announced that state revenues have “surged” over $400 million dollars…leading to a $680 million dollar “surplus” enough that the state can back out of the decision it had made to borrow money to balance this year’s state budget.

Remember back in the day when Governor Malloy talked of shared sacrifice and said that if state employees didn’t come up with $2 billion in concessions he would be forced to lay off thousands and shred the state’s safety net.

The message was clear. If state employees did not provide the largest give-backs in history – five times the size of what was given up by state employees only 18 months ago – Connecticut’s most frail and vulnerable citizens would suffer.

And to ensure that Connecticut’s state employee were compliant, the $2 billion amount was included in the state budget, the concession package was finalized and agreed to by union leadership and it now awaits the approval of the state’s rank-and-file workers.

Ironically, as state employees are learning, that concession package is projected to save $103 million from moving state employees to a “Value Based Health System” in which any employees who do not agree to follow their doctor’s directives and any and all rules associated with any disease management plan, will face an increase of $1,200 in their annual health insurance premiums plus an immediate $350 per person deductible.

Meanwhile, we now learn that what was a $1.8 million surplus in the $500 million dollar retiree health care account 60 days ago, grew to a $16.9 million surplus 30 days ago to now, an astonishing $117 million figure.

The CT Mirror reports that, with a straight face, Benjamin Barnes, Governor Malloy’s budget director, is now saying that not only is there this $117 million surplus in this year’s budget but much of it shows up as a surplus in next year’s budget as well.

But of course, he “declined to speculate on just how much”.

Safe to say, that between this year and the budget just approved, this one line item alone may have as much or more than a quarter of a billion dollars in extra funds.

So Governor Malloy tells state employees to give up benefits or lose their jobs, then takes the extra funds from this year’s retiree health line-item to help cancel some planned borrowing.

And now we learn there is even more there, money that will push up next year’s surplus even higher.

Of course, this isn’t just an issue for state employees. Middle-class families are also being tricked, twice over. First they are paying more because Malloy refuses to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share and now we learn that the state has more money than it was admitting to.

Furthermore, Malloy and the Democrats continue to talk about additional cuts that will be needed to “balance” the recently adopted budget since the state employee concession package did not save the full $2 billion that was required.  Even today the news is includes reports of cities and towns asking their legislators to spare them from potential cuts in aid that may be coming down from the Malloy Administration.

Really?  More cuts when there is a significant and growing surplus built into next year’s budget?

Read Phaneuf’s story at http://ctmirror.org/story/12733/last-minute-windfall-pops-retiree-health-care-account

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