In An Election Year, Democratic Lawmakers Praise Affordable Care Act
Democratic lawmakers gathered at the Legislative Office Building Monday to discuss how anxious they are to start educating the public about all the benefits of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Rep. Elizabeth Ritter, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said the Supreme Court’s decision allows the state to move toward full implementation of the law “with the certainty that we have a strong federal partner.”
Connecticut, unlike many states, already has taken advantage of the Medicaid expansion provision, creation of an Insurance Exchange Board, and some of the other consumer protections.
Ritter estimated that Connecticut’s uninsured population, which stands at about 380,000 individuals today, will drop by about 170,000 once the law is fully implemented. The numbers are based on the experience in Massachusetts. She estimated that about 3 percent of the population will remain uninsured.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, Ritter’s co-chairwoman, said state lawmakers should “absolutely” consider a public option to offer as part of its insurance exchange, which is the portal where all Connecticut residents will go to obtain health care benefits.
But there are those populations which may not be able to afford to purchase insurance through the exchange, including low-income populations who won’t be covered by Medicaid and who may not be able to purchase a private insurance plan on the exchange.
Under the Affordable Care Act, individuals who fall between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for subsides through the exchanges, but the state can opt to offer those individuals a Medicaid-type plan and claim the subsidies itself.
Gerratana said she’s a member of a working group, which is exploring how best to cover this population. For the past two years, the state legislature failed to pass legislation which would implement what is being called the Basic Health Plan
Lawmakers were joined at the press conference by state Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, who said the Affordable Care Act will help more residents obtain insurance because it takes discriminatory tools away from insurance companies — tools such as exclusion for pre-existing conditions and gender rating.
There will be “no more circumstances where women who are 30 pay twice as much as a man of the same age just because they’re of child-bearing age,” Veltri said.
She said the law also includes several market reforms such as allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance policies until they’re 26 years old, lifting annual and lifetime limits, and free preventative screening.
Veltri, who is a member of the Insurance Exchange Board, said creating the board and being able to offer consumers a menu of private health care plans is important, but to millions of Connecticut residents the market reforms are huge.
“The ACA is a major victory for Connecticut consumers,” Veltri said. “It represents the best of America, the best of our state.”
Another one of the reforms also is expected to put some of money back into the pockets of Connecticut residents in August in the form of health insurance rebates.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last week that 137,000 Connecticut residents will benefit from $12.9 million in rebates from insurance companies this summer because of the Affordable Care Act’s 80/20 rule. According to a press release from Sebelius’ office, these rebates will average $168 for the 77,100 Connecticut families covered by a policy that didn’t spend the required 80 percent on medical care.
Some of the other benefits lawmakers touted Monday include the following:
23,000 young adults gained insurance coverage;
last year, 422,154 state residents received free preventive services – such as mammograms and colonoscopies – or a free annual wellness visit, and;
1.38 million state residents (including 525,000 women and 367,000 children) no longer have to worry about lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.
But forget about the numbers for a second. Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, a West Hartford lawmaker and cancer survivor, said there are many people who are in denial about the current state of the health care system.
“They think about it as if it’s something that’s maybe going to happen to grandma, grandpa, their parents eventually,” Fleischmann said. “They don’t think about the fact that every human being in this state is going to need health care at some point in their life. Every person in this state deserves the type of health care coverage that assures them that while they are in those dire moments they don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to have coverage.”
Fleischmann was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and sought treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York. He was repeatedly told that his health insurance plan would not cover treatment at Sloan-Kettering. Fleischman believed that his plan did cover such treatment, and persisted until his insurance carrier made good on the policy — acknowledging that, in fact, MSKCC coverage was included under his plan.
Veltri said the federal law doesn’t allow any federal dollars to be used on abortions, but right now stakeholders are discussing whether elective abortions should be covered in the state.
Right now, every private insurance plan in Connecticut already includes coverage for elective abortions. But under the Patient and Affordable Care Act, Connecticut must choose an “essential health benefits plan” and not all of the options they have to choose from include elective abortions as a mandated coverage option.
The issue is likely to spark debate. The Health Plan Qualifications advisory committee has until the end of the summer to make their recommendations to the Insurance Exchange Board. But, as of this moment, it is not considering any of the plans that don’t include abortion as an option.
“Unless something happens I think elective abortions are going to be one of the coverage options,” Veltri said.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have scheduled the first repeal vote on the law next week, according to U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.