Hoffman, Christopher, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Although Gov. Ned Lamont said nothing about health care policy in his inaugural speech to the General Assembly, it’s likely to be a major theme of at least his early months in office.
Why? Depending on how it’s calculated, health care makes up 25 to 30 percent of the state budget, according to the Office of the State Comptroller. Lamont will have to balance the need to save money with the desire of many inside and outside the General Assembly to expand and improve health care coverage and lower costs for consumers.
“There’s almost two levels,” said Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation, which focuses on assuring health equity and access to affordable care for all. “One is the issues that are emerging at the legislature. The other is the state budget and how it affects the issues in play.”
Lamont’s transition team did not return calls asking about his health care agenda, but interviews with a broad swath of state government officials, lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates yielded a long list of issues, including controlling the skyrocketing prescription drug prices—20 senators have proposed a bill to make prescription medication more affordable. Other issues include: exploring creation of a health insurance public option—Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, has filed a bill to do so; and getting the state into the reinsurance business to lower premiums.
Other ideas: professionalizing and expanding the use of community health
care workers; allocating additional resources for aging in place; encouraging more results-oriented medicine; helping different electronic medical record systems talk to each other; and finding ways to keep doctors from the leaving the state.
The idea that had perhaps the greatest interest and bipartisan support is increasing transparency in drug pricing, a first step toward reining in exploding costs. The state began addressing the issue in the last session with a law requiring drug companies and pharmacy benefit managers to explain drug price increases of more than 20 percent in one year or more than 50 percent over three years. Large entities, including the state, hire PBMs, as they are called, to negotiate drug prices, but their deals are opaque and it’s often unclear if savings are being passed on. The law doesn’t fully kick in until 2021, but State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said he supports releasing information about excessive drug price increases this year and “inviting” the providers to explain.
During the legislative session, others groups that will be watching the health care action intently: the scores of health care lobbyists who represent everyone from good government policy institutes and community health centers to insurance companies, drug makers and doctors. In the coming months, they will prowl the halls and committee rooms of the General Assembly in a quest to influence legislation in the best interest of their clients.
If lobbying the General Assembly and state government is an industry, then health care is its biggest single sector. According to state ethics filings, 275 entities engaged in some form of lobbying on health care during the 2017 and 2018 sessions, the most on any issue