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SustiNet Rumors Continue Even After Defeat of Agreement and Legislation

by Christine Stuart | Jul 6, 2011 5:00am
(14) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Health Care, Legal

Christine Stuart file photo

Sal Luciano at a Red Cross workers rally earlier this year.

The same day Gov. Dannel P. Malloy allowed the health care pooling bill to become law without his signature — including language that essentially neutered SustiNet into becoming an powerless advisory board — a columnist published an April letter from a union leader and claimed it was further evidence that the defeated union concession package would have forced state employees into a “social experiment.”

“When the concession deal was rejected last month, indignant union leaders blamed a furtive misinformation campaign from inside and outside their ranks,“ Kevin Rennie, a former Republican state Senator who is now an attorney, blogger, and Courant columnist, wrote Tuesday. “Dissident union members who opposed the concessions were characterized as ignorant and paranoid. They now appear, however, to have been reasonable, perceptive, and, most dangerous, candid in voicing their concerns.”

Rennie’s evidence is an April 14 letter authored by Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, one of the unions that rejected the concession package. The concession package was defeated in part because of the “misinformation“ regarding the changes to the health care package, union spokesmen have said.

Former Gov. John G. Rowland, now a talk show host on WTIC, fueled the fire on Tuesday by calling the letter the “smoking gun” and suggesting it confirms the SustiNet-SEBAC rumor. Both the Malloy administration and the unions have denied that there is any truth to the rumor, which before Tuesday was thought to be dead with the official rejection of the union concession package.

Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman, wondered what Rowland was smoking when he made the comment.

“Read the letter. Sober up. Then tell me what it says,” O’Connor quipped Tuesday.

‘Smoking Gun’ or Smoke and Mirrors?

Why is the SustiNet-SEBAC rumor persisting? Even Malloy criticized the news media last week, blaming reporters for failing to clarify the facts sooner.

“You guys quite frankly while all this was going on could have done a better job of reporting that I was the guy who curtailed SustiNet, and that I was the guy that brought up that we couldn’t put state employees into such a plan,” Malloy said last week.

Before the Governor made up his mind to kill efforts for a more robust SustiNet bill, Luciano had written him on AFSCME letterhead and as a volunteer member of the SustiNet Board of Directors. As a volunteer member of the board, Luciano studied the creation of a universal type health care system for nearly two years before handing recommendations back to lawmakers in December. Few of those specific recommendations ever became legislation. However, the legislation that was later proposed and which would have allowed municipal and nonprofit employees to join the unions’ health care plans, effectively died in early April before Luciano even sent the letter.

To be fair, the letter may have been a fruitless, last-ditch lobbying effort by Luciano to salvage SustiNet.

But knowing there was no chance it would ever come to the House floor for a vote, lawmakers further took the extraordinary additional step in June of sending the bill back to committee — a.k.a. killing the bill for this year — when it looked like its presence on the calendar could impact voting on the state employee concessions package.

Luciano’s April letter was dated two days after Malloy finished his 17 town hall meetings, during which he repeatedly told Universal Health Care Foundation supporters that he would not get on the SustiNet train.

“SustiNet will provide affordable medical insurance to many more by making the state employee plan accessible to municipal employees and small businesses,” Luciano wrote in his letter.

“The state employee health plan will become part of SustiNet, which some call a ‘Cadillac plan,’ clearly a derogatory term to imply overly rich benefits. It is a specious claim,” he wrote.

O’Connor says the “will become part of SustiNet” phrasing may have been an unfortunate choice of words because Luciano knew the state employees’ plan would be used to create economies of scale and would continue to be negotiated separately through collective bargaining. He said a 2005 resolution   passed by SEBAC ensured the autonomy of their health care plan — meaning other populations would not be joining the unions’ pool or disrupting costs.

But O’Connor said that without an agreement past 2017, there is no guarantee state employees will be able to hold onto the health benefits they were offered as part of the failed agreement.

Further, O’Connor said the agreement reached between SEBAC and the Malloy administration said nothing about universal healthcare.

“What it did say was that the benefits and access of state employees to their health care would be protected through at least July 1, 2022,” O’Connor wrote on the SEBAC website. “It did say that neither the legislature nor the governor could make unilateral changes to employees’ health care for at least 11 years — five years longer than they are currently protected.”

Ironically, the failed agreement would have made state employee health benefits less subject to legislative manipulation, O’Connor said.

The remnant of SustiNet, which passed the legislature as part of health care pooling legislation and which Malloy allowed to become law without his signature, creates a 21-member board to discuss the way forward for a state health care plan that compliments the federal exchanges going into effect in 2014. The legislation does not prescribe any action be taken aside from the creation of the board and discussion.

The 2009 SustiNet legislation that created the SustiNet Board of Directors expired when they made their recommendations to the legislature in December. The legislation that followed the board’s recommendations was defeated when it became clear to lawmakers that it would not receive Malloy’s support.

The Universal Health Care Foundation, which helped dedicate funds to the creation of the SustiNet legislation, did not immediately return calls for comment.

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(14) Comments

posted by: perturbed | July 6, 2011  6:20am

perturbed

The myth of the “debunked myth” has been debunked!

What the letter demonstrates, in page after page, is a clear conflict of interest on the part of the SEBAC negotiators. The last SustiNet rally took place on April 27, near the end of the negotiations. The “pooling” bill passed the house on the day SEBAC 2011 was signed, and the senate sometime later. So throughout the process, SEBAC leaders continued to plead for Malloy’s support on as much of their original health care reform vision as possible.

As they sat at the negotiating table with the Malloy administration, which one of their objectives was most important to them? Was it protecting the hard-won benefits of state employees, or was it using any means possible to garner political support for the scraps of their cherished SustiNet bill (even if it meant compromising state employee benefits to buy that support)?

How would anyone know?

The negotiations were “air-tight”.

—perturbed

posted by: SJAY | July 6, 2011  7:25am

Thanks, Christine.  I didn’t get to hear you on the JR “show” yesterday and I don’t know if you discussed the details in here with him, but it’s educational reading for him and his brethren…

posted by: JusticeCT | July 6, 2011  7:34am

This continuing catastrophe stems from confusion of the legislation Sustinet with Sustinet as the package of best ideas to cut health care costs by improving the quality of care.  We know that, today, health care payments reward providers for individual units of service instead of for taking responsibility for the overall health of their patients.  We know that millions of dollars and untold suffering can be averted with more prevention and detection, healthy lifestyle promotion,  etc. etc.  “Sustinet” represents these and many other best ideas for making health care better and cheaper and taking full advantage of federal reforms for the people of CT.  Sustinet the LAW has surely changed—2 years ago, it was hoped that funding would be available to allow small businesses to join a pool and get reduced rates to provide health coverage.  The state budget crisis precluded that, and federal reforms don’t provide subsidies for another 2 1/2 years.  Earlier this year, the Sustinet bill would have set up a non-profit alternative to the couple of for-profit insurers that are strangling our economy.  The Governor’s hostility to this resulted in a compromise:  a commitment to do a plan for a non-profit and other alternatives over the next year.  What didn’t change was the idea that all programs operated by the state—employee health, Medicaid, HUSKY etc. would all become better—operated under the “Sustinet” best practices to improve quality and lower costs.  This IS confusing—and opponents have reveled in the fertile ground like pigs at the tough, exploiting every opportunity for obfuscation and lies.  We have to remember that we—the vast majority of people—all want lower costs and better health,  that we can’t get one without the other, and that the only people stopping us are the giant insurance companies and their conservative allies dedicating to preventing, at all costs, a successful non-profit alternative to balance the ruinous practices that control our pocketbooks and our health today.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | July 6, 2011  7:41am

DrHunterSThompson

who to trust and believe is the question.

Luciano?
Malloy?
Wyman?

none of them?

they all had a part in the sustinet debacle, and will continue to do so next year and the year after, etc ....

the concession deal failed over the healthcare and pension provisions.  let’s get a couple of liars to resign (Luciano, Wyman) and move on.


let’s talk furlough days and wages and get this budget on track.  is anyone in charge?

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | July 6, 2011  8:30am

GoatBoyPHD

Here’s the thing: either SustiNet exists to preserve policy discrimination and give public workers a better policy than private workers or it exists to merge and streamline policy types into a more egalitarian health care system for all.

I’m a cynic who believes the egalitarian thing is more FUD from Democrats. Sustinet exists to preserve Medicaid and the Cadillac policies state and muni employees get at the expense of private industry taxpayers. That’s the Democrats I know!

Luciano sees SustiNet for what it should be (but isn’t): SustiNet should be a leveling of policies, payments, and benefits. One policy to heal them all. A new age of equality in Medical Care! A real universal system.

The difference between subsidized private workers policies, Medicaid, and a state workers policy? Morally it should be none! Zero difference.

This is Luciano’s fear: moralists will take over SustiNet instead of Democrats.

Bwaah Haaah Haaah. The cynic in me says no. Private workers will get the inferior policies as planned and Medicaid and state workers will continue getting a superior policy.

If you compare the out-of-pocket expenses between a state worker earning $40,000, a private worker on the subsidized policy earning the same, and a Medicaid recipient it becomes obvious just how loaded the system is against the private workers getting a subsidy but mandated to purchase. Coverage is great–just don’t use it. You can’t afford to.

Luciano’s fears are unjustified. The Democrats in politics have no such egalitarian motives. They will continue offering public sector workers and state subsistence beneficiaries ‘Gold’ policies that are paid for on the backs of private industry workers.

posted by: redlady | July 6, 2011  8:37am

It’s ironic that the union workers voted “no” because of SustiNet.  If one reads the original proposal of the plan, as it was presented to the commission, it was clearly designed as a cadillac plan (what private plan covers some of the services that would have?).
While the Governor has voiced his concerns about SustiNet (he did this at his later town hall meetings), just the passing of the current bill could leave the door open for SustiNet to go forward.
If that happens, the taxpayer will bear the brunt of it.  The state workers would be the least of the problem as the design of SustiNet would greatly expand Medicaid.  And, that is why Malloy did not support it.

posted by: JAM | July 6, 2011  8:42am

So what exactly is Sustinet?
And what was all the backslapping about during the session about passing Sustinet?
And what becomes of the Universal health Care Foundation that was funded with State money received from the Anthem take over of Blue Cross?
Is there any reason to continue this? Why not take whatever money is leftover and do something useful with it like reducing some debt?

posted by: redlady | July 6, 2011  8:43am

Educate yourselves on the Universal Healthcare Foundation and how SustiNet was created.
Blumenthal used lawsuit winnings which he invested, using the returns to start a complicated grant program to non-profits, then relying on their support to further the effort. It worked until it ran into problems with scrutiny about the sustainability.
Voters would be wise to keep an eye on this law in order to prevent further amendments and acceptance of a very expensive taxpayer funded public health plan.

posted by: illogicallylogical | July 6, 2011  11:21am

After reading this “open letter” to Malloy, Sal Luciano should step down from both boards.  Clearly he only has his interests in mind.  Based on his behavior with the concession package and this letter, it proves that he is not only after Union dues, but also the insurance dues state workers pay bi-weekly for their benefits. He does not care about the union members he is supposed to be representing.  Everyone thought it was “Yankee” paranoia, and now there is evidence supporting Luciano playing both sides.  Does anyone know if Luciano can be removed by the Council 4 members?  I was thinking along the lines of a vote of “no confidence”.

posted by: skydogct | July 6, 2011  11:39am

Sustinet is a wonderful propaganda tool for those who hate unions and health care reform. They have the capability of killing 2 birds with one stone. Not only do they tar Sustinet but they spread mis-information to the bargaining unit in hopes to kill the deal.  Like in the Godfather, Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo knew that after missing his chance to kill Vito Corleone he had to continue to try. That was still the key for him. The goal is still the same for Rowland, Rennie, and the Republicans. Spread whatever mis-information it can and allow it to grow and kill any union deal. Only then can they realize their dream to end collective bargaining for public unions.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | July 6, 2011  1:42pm

GoatBoyPHD

SustiNet is suffering from buyer’s remorse.

Remember Lembo claiming all sorts of SustiNet savings on the campaign trail derived from Rell’s participation in Obama’s Medicaid changes?

Lembo’s hype flew for about 30 days after election when Malloy unceremoniously agreed with the GOP campaign assessment and decoupled those savings from the SustiNet hype machine and scratched his head and said “What Savings? We already have those savings in the pipeline”.

That was the shot over the bow Democrats. A reality check. Some are still calling Malloy’s bluff.

posted by: perturbed | July 6, 2011  9:02pm

perturbed

“He said a 2005 resolution passed by SEBAC ensured the autonomy of their health care plan — meaning other populations would not be joining the unions’ pool or disrupting costs.”

It doesn’t mean that, Christine. Here, it’s all of three sentences long, let’s look at what it says:

“SEBAC Leadership recognizes and supports the efforts to treat healthcare as a fundamental right, to expand access to health care for all working families, and to use healthcare pooling and other cost-saving avenues to expand health care access and moderate its cost. At the same time, Leadership reiterates its commitment that the State Employee Health Care Plan shall remain subject solely to the control of the Health Care Cost Containment Committee and the parties. Any effort to modify or affect the benefits of, or access to, the state employee health care plan without the express agreement of SEBAC would be a violation of our contract and of state and federal statutory and constitutional requirement.”

So it really only means that “other populations would not be joining the unions’ pool or disrupting costs” without SEBAC’s consent.

You’ve read the April 14, 2011 letter from Luciano; you know Livingston’s position on the board of CHART; you know Rinker’s hard work for health care reform. Do you expect us to believe SEBAC would ever stand in the way of the measures they’ve fought for all these years?

Some safeguard.

—perturbed

posted by: CT Jim | July 7, 2011  8:24am

So sticking our heads in the sand and saying you can’t touch me does anything? Really ?? Facts are if the only people in the state that have quality affordable health care are state workers that plan will ultimatly die in 2017. Sal is very smart man and knows that expanding health care coverage for ALL saves the healthcare his members are recieving now and in the future but theres enough conspiracy theroists out there searching for everything from big foot to Jimmy Hoffa that are fueling these so called fires. Union have been and will continue to work on ways for everyone to have quality affordable health care. Some people need to wake up.

posted by: the truth | July 7, 2011  10:40pm

Who the heck does Oconnor represent??  From the tone of his comments and coverup of the lies it can’t be the union members.