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Others Do Health Care As We Idle

June 2, 2007

My job was simple. Take a complicated subject I knew little to nothing about - universal health care - and as moderator make it so the average schmoe could understand it. More than 200 people attended the October 2006 health care summit in Meriden, including panelists from Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, who explained how their states passed health care reform legislation.

Here's what our New England neighbahs said would be the blueprint for Connecticut's success:

The governor has to provide strong leadership in advocating for health care reform. If she's not fully engaged, it won't happen.

There must be a collaborative approach to whatever plan is developed, including health care providers, insurers, lawmakers, the uninsured and business leaders.

Keep it simple. There are few things more mind-numbing than hearing a bunch of insurers, doctors, financial and business folks talking about health care, insurance options, access and financing.

At the start of Connecticut's legislative session this year, there were sizzling plans for universal health care. They fizzled. So far, the only health care reform of significance is the proposal to allow chronically ill people to smoke a joint or two to ease their pain.

There are an estimated 400,000 uninsured - about 75,000 are children - in this state populated by 3.9 million people. Ann Pratt heads the Meriden-based Connecticut Parent Power, a parent-advocacy group. Each year, Pratt said, access to quality health care is among parents' top concern.

"I'm very concerned that it gets done," she said Friday, participating in a rally at the Capitol. "There are promising signs, but I'm deeply concerned that it stays a priority. Our job is to keep the pressure on."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has presented her plan; the legislature's Democratic leadership is crafting its own. Let's just say there's plenty of room for negotiation.

Rell's revised proposal calls for monthly premiums ranging from $75 to $250, and annual deductibles of $100 to $1,500, depending on income and family size. Her initial cost projections of $45 million have been trimmed to $34 million because the package would be started in late 2008.

Grass-root reformists question the affordability, sustainability and overall accessibility of Rell's package - and whether it relies too much on the insurance market's response to it. The governor's folks insist the package is affordable and doable. Michael Starkowski, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, said Friday that there is a good chance federal reimbursements will be available for Rell's package.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, want to create a Health Care Authority to develop and recommend a comprehensive package to the legislature next year. Their proposal also seeks to leverage state and municipal employee health plans so the state can negotiate from strength with providers to include programs for the uninsured. The Dems also want to increase the reimbursements to doctors who treat those on limited incomes.

Hartford was once known as "The Insurance Capital." Some of the country's most prominent pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, have operations in the state. And there are top-notch hospitals here, including Yale University's.

With those assets in place, you'd think the richest state in the union could figure out a seamless way to provide health care for its most underserved.

Instead, we watch as our New England neighbors find a way to get it done.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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