Ask about the cost of healthcare and everyone seems to be in agreement.
“Too high,” said Kyle Gauck of East Hampton. “Epipens are crazy expensive. I need an inhaler. That’s also expensive.”
“Healthcare is way too expensive, prescription drug prices are astronomical,” added Chris Cardella of Middletown. “It’s killing middle-class and lower-class Americans.”
According to the Connecticut Department of Social Services, healthcare costs in the state have grown 77% over the last 15 years while wages have grown by 21%.
Connecticut lawmakers hope two executive orders signed by Gov. Ned Lamont Wednesday will keep the price you pay to see a doctor or go to the hospital in check.
“Healthcare costs are going up at three or four times average wage increases and that’s unsupportable,” said Lamont.
The orders call for an advisory team to figure out what’s driving up prices, identify waste and duplication, and set markers to limit spending growth. The team will be made up of public and private insurers, hospitals, doctors, and even drug companies.
“You see folks blaming the drug companies and then the drug companies blame the hospitals, and then the hospitals blame the insurance companies. Everybody blames each other. What this is doing is it gets everybody at the same table,” said State Senator Matt Lesser, a Democrat from Middletown.
“This is a place where Connecticut is a leader. So, shame on us if we cannot collaborate, work together, and show the rest of the country that we’re able to get a control over these underlying costs and direct people toward the highest quality outcomes,” Lamont added.
The team has one year to come up with benchmarks. Those benchmarks will be used from 2021 to 2025 to identify providers and insurers contributing to excessive spending growth.
“I don’t know if it will necessarily work, but I think transparency in healthcare is incredibly important,” said Cardella. “You don’t know how much doctors are charging these days for the same procedures and I think if every day Americans had that ability to make that choice to go to a different clinic or a different doctor if they knew that the procedure was going to be more affordable for them I think it would be better for them to have that option, why shouldn’t we have that option.”
They won't be penalized, but the bi-partisan backers of this program think public pressure will cause healthcare entities to keep their costs in line.
"What this does today is it takes and moves our state in a positive and forward motion to start to look at ways we can increase transparency,” said State Senator Kevin Kelly, a Republican from Stratford.
“What we’re doing is showing how you compare in costs to elsewhere, gives us leverage, gives them leverage as we try to negotiate prices going forward,” Lamont explained.
Lawmakers are looking to our neighbors to the north, Massachusetts as a model, saying that similar benchmarks there have saved more than $5 billion in healthcare costs since 2013.
A second executive order is aimed at addressing racial disparities in medical outcomes and lowering the state’s Medicaid burden.
“The reality is that for a baby born to a black mother in Connecticut, they’re four more times likely to die before their first birthday than a baby born to a white mother,” said Patricia Baker, of the Connecticut Health Foundation.
While Connecticut ranks towards the top for access to healthcare, when it comes to health outcomes for people of color, Baker said the state sits at just 23rd in the nation.
Benjiman Jackson said that statistic didn’t surprise him.
“They often live in communities that don’t have good healthcare,” he explained.
Baker said those disparities have led to over $500 million in excess hospital costs for minority residents, many of whom are on Medicaid. State legislators say if those costs can be curbed, it could improve the health of not only residents but also the state budget.