Ask anyone who spent time at the Connecticut State Capitol this year, and they’ll likely tell you that the 2011 Legislative Session was an exercise in persistence and negotiation, and that the gravity of the State’s budget deficits made the process particularly grueling.
SustiNet, the state healthcare law, passed in 2009 to provide, affordable, comprehensive healthcare to residents survived the onslaught, but its road to implementation is an uphill March.
Advocates had hoped, based on the research and recommendations of the SustiNet Board, that Connecticut would be poised to lead the nation by:
- Establishing health insurance exchanges
- Accessing federal grants to support healthcare reform and,
- Giving financial relief to individuals and small businesses buckling under the weight of exorbitant health insurance costs.
Though the Legislature approved a prescription to address the state’s healthcare woes, it is still waiting to be filled. The current SustiNet plan scores major victories that align with the SustiNet Board’s advice for protections to increase the health security of state residents including:
- Creating the SustiNet Health Care Cabinet within the Lieutenant Governor’s
Office to coordinate state and federal healthcare reforms, promote initiatives to improve health and ensure the state’s healthcare dollars are properly invested.
- Creating the Office of Health Reform and Innovation in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. (The office will support the Cabinet and function as the state’s central coordinator of health policy.)
- Directing the SustiNet Healthcare Cabinet to produce a business plan for a non-profit, public health insurance option. (The business plan deadline is October 2012.)
- Directing the SustiNet Healthcare Cabinet to assess the State’s feasibility for offering the Basic Health Program beginning in 2014.
- Opening the state employee pool to municipalities beginning in 2012 and qualified
nonprofits in 2013.
While these improvements are significant and provide fundamental infrastructure, individuals, and small business owners like me are, once again at the mercy of insurance companies that often offer too little in exchange for too much.
Faced with this quandary, some may surrender and not seek coverage at all, or cease operations. It’s reasonable to think that many business owners, along with their families and employees, may join the ranks of Connecticut’s uninsured. This may lead to fewer small businesses and more sick people –which is bad economic news for all of Connecticut.
Small business owners and their employees, along with self employed individuals make up about 44% of the state’s workforce. Regardless of race, ethnicity, educational background or employment status, when people are without means to secure affordable healthcare, their methods to get the help and health outcomes are strikingly similar. Delays in seeking treatment, emergency room use, uncoordinated healthcare, and late diagnosis commonly increase.
Early inclusion of small businesses and individuals in the SustiNet plan would go a long way toward improving the health of Connecticut’s residents and economy. Small businesses need comprehensive healthcare choices at a reasonable cost. Done right, SustiNet’s public option would be good medicine.
Cheryl Harris Forbes is managing principal of Harris Forbes Associates, a public relations and marketing firm. She handles business outreach activities for Small Business for a Healthy Connecticut, is a 2008 Connecticut Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellow, and the former Public Affairs/Special Projects Director for the State of Connecticut African-American Affairs Commission.