Bipartisan Bill Targets Growing Healthcare Costs

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Connecticut lawmakers took up 19 healthcare-related bills on Thursday. Many were aimed at chipping away at the cost of healthcare.

Backers of a bipartisan bill to reform health insurance, bring down prescription drug prices, and set limits on healthcare cost increases said it will bring real relief to residents.

"The prescription drug prices that we're paying in Connecticut are some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world.  People in Canada are paying 10% of what we're paying,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, (D) Middletown.

Some Connecticut lawmakers want to start allowing the importation of certain prescription drugs from Canada.

The plan would ultimately need to be approved by the federal government.  Several other states have similar laws on the books, but there is no working program just yet.

"I think we're going to keep throwing stuff against the wall on prescription drugs until we find the relief we desperately need,” said Lesser.

Lawmakers are also looking at ways to make healthcare costs more predictable by tackling high insurance premiums.

A reinsurance provision in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, kept premiums from fluctuating when the new law requiring extra coverage went into effect.  When that program ended in 2016, the insurance market became unstable and resulted in premiums skyrocketing.

Now, Lesser and other lawmakers want to create a state-run $19.5-million reinsurance pool.  The ACA gives states the opportunity to create their own programs and will match them 65%.  Lawmakers said this could defray large claims and keep those costs from being passed onto patients through their premiums.

“This is basically using the framework of the Affordable Care Act and where the federal government stopped funding in 2016 this would be a state-based funding mechanism to maintain those funds that were originally promised to the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. Kevin Kelly, (R) Stratford.

The money would come out of the general fund, amounting to 1/10th of 1% of the state budget. Backers of the bill estimated the investment would cut premiums by seven-percent across the board for residents.

The last part of the bill would create benchmarks for the growth of healthcare costs.  Connecticut is using Massachusetts as a model for the executive order signed by Governor Ned Lamont in January.

"The Massachusetts model between 2013 and 2018 saved consumers in Massachusetts $5 billion.  That is big money,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, (D) Guilford.

The median income in Connecticut has grown 21% in the last 15 years.  Healthcare costs have grown 77%.

“The fact of the matter is that healthcare costs go up every year much faster than the overall economy is growing and that’s just not sustainable,” said Lesser.

A board of insurers, doctors, hospitals, and drug companies will set a target for healthcare entities to meet. 

Those with costs that exceed that target will be subject to state monitoring.

“If there is somebody that’s doing the job at a fraction of the cost part of the endeavor will be to ask why are you able to do this at a lower cost,” said Kelly.

Kelly said another driving force in bringing costs down will be the patients.

"You're going to see that their costs might be higher than others so you will be able to see that,” he explained.

 A separate bill discussed Thursday is the public option, a state-run health insurance program billed as a more affordable option for individuals, small business owners, and non-profits.

 Critics worried that if the state can't cover the claims, the responsibility might fall on taxpayers.

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