Democratic View: A public option for Connecticut

I saw an ad on Facebook last week that stunned me. “Connecticut’s private health insurance options are working just fine,” it boasted. According to whom? Certainly not the small business owners I’ve met who tell me that healthcare coverage consumes an ever-greater portion of their budget. Not the senior citizens who struggle to afford their increasingly expensive prescription medication. I’m sure none of the 194,000 uninsured individuals in our state would claim our current system is “just fine.” No, the ad is sponsored by an insurance industry PAC and epitomizes their desire to maintain the status quo. But the reality is that the problem of healthcare coverage, particularly for small businesses, is getting worse, not better.

That’s why I’m so excited about an important bill we’re trying to pass in Hartford. My colleagues and I have worked hard to create a public option for health care in Connecticut, fighting back against cost increases and coverage shortages by opening access to an affordable alternative. By creating a public option, we can relieve so many in our state who are struggling to make ends meet or deciding between paying bills and getting medical care.

This comes as America’s healthcare spending is reaching levels that are stunning and jarring. From 1996 to 2015, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, healthcare spending rose by almost $1 trillion in our country. Just in 2018, the average healthcare premium for family healthcare coverage increased almost 5 percent — that’s nearly $20,000 per year per family. Those numbers will keep rising, and they’re a harbinger for an untenable future. From 2006 to 2016, payment deductibles grew faster than wage growth. That means health care bills are rising while paychecks stagnate.

That’s why I support a public option. In the coming weeks, the State Senate should vote on a proposal to allow Connecticut citizens who work for small businesses to buy into the state’s health insurance plan. The program, called “ConnectHealth,” would introduce greater competition into a marketplace that’s plagued by sticky prices. The state already offers high-quality care at a low price, and the plan becomes more sustainable when additional citizens are given an opportunity to enroll.

Perhaps Comptroller Kevin Lembo best explained why we need this legislation at a press conference earlier this year. “Somewhere in Connecticut, there’s a young worker with a big idea that they want to chase — something that could change their world or ours,” he said. “But for now, they’re forced into a cubicle because it may be their only way to access health care.”

When small business owners tell me that they can only succeed when their employees are healthy, I believe them. Despite the ads you might see on Facebook, I know the status quo isn’t cutting it for my constituents. I look forward to supporting a public option on the Senate floor.

State Sen. Will Haskell represents the 26th District, which includes Ridgefield. The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.

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