Democrats' Bill Calls For Funding Now, Plan For Universal Coverage Later
January 23, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
Freshman Democrats on Monday called for the creation of a special trust fund to help pay for future universal health care in Connecticut, a plan they said would save taxpayers money while the debate over coverage rages on.
State Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel, said he wanted Connecticut to avoid situations seen in states such as Massachusetts, where legislators have adopted universal health care but now are struggling to find ways to pay for it over the long term.
"Beginning to invest money into a fund so that we can one day establish a universal health care system in our state makes fiscal sense," said Bartlett, who introduced the trust fund bill with the support of 17 other freshman lawmakers.
"When you have a child, you do not wait until they enter college to begin saving for their higher education," Bartlett said. "It's fiscally responsible and definitely an option that the legislature should enact."
The Democrats' bill would establish the fund by using $125 million from an anticipated state budget surplus of $700 million to $800 million; $125 million from the 2007-08 operating budget and another $125 million from the 2008-09 budget.
The fund would be supervised by state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier and would be mirrored after existing investment plans that are earning 5 percent to 10 percent annually, lawmakers said.
According to the Democrats, if the treasurer were to invest $250 million over 24 months at existing rates of return, the state would realize a gain of $51.95 million. If the legislature were to set aside the full $375 million for the treasurer to invest, the state would realize a gain of $78 million, the Democrats said.
State Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, said the state needs to prepare now so money will be available when universal health coverage becomes a reality.
Schofield compared the proposal with what happens when someone is looking to buy a house. "If you know you want to buy a house, you don't know which house you're going to buy," she said. "But you're going to start saving for that down payment as early as possible so you don't find the house of your dreams and then not have enough money in the bank to pay for it."
House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk applauded the lawmakers' willingness to jump into the issue, but cautioned that the young Democrats were asking taxpayers to take a great leap of faith.
"It appears to me that what they've come forward with is a funding proposal for a system that has yet to be established," Cafero said. "If there is one thing I've learned in 14 years of being in this business, it's that you can tell your constituents you need their tax dollars, but you also better tell them where you're going to spend it."
House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, said he thinks the idea is worth exploring.
"The Massachusetts plan, the Maine plan and the California plan ... the ideas that are coming out are very encouraging," Amann said. "But the biggest problem is how do we afford it? And more important than affordability is sustainability."
House Democrats said that once universal health care is adopted in Connecticut, it could take 12 to 24 months before the programs are funded and in place.
Amann estimated Monday that a universal health care plan could cost the state anywhere from $50 million to $400 million annually, depending on the extent of the plan and the balance of public and private funds.
Amann and Cafero are expected to discuss their parties' ideas on universal health care next Monday, when the issue is scheduled to come before the public health committee for a public hearing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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