Lawmakers try again on health coverage mandates

Backers of a bill to require insurers to pay for items related to medical conditions, such as prosthetics, wigs and colostomy supplies, hope to win a veto-proof majority for the measure now that they have a price tag for it.

“It’s 72 cents,” said Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, referring to the monthly cost per policyholder. “I’d gladly pay 72 cents.”

The Appropriations Committee Monday passed the bill 31-19.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed an identical measure last year, citing cost. The 10 mandates in the measure would “have a significant cost for taxpayers, policyholders, and employers in future years,” she said. She has not taken a position on the current bill.

Since Rell’s veto last year, an independent study by the University of Connecticut estimated the cost of the requirement at 72 cents a month for every policyholder.

The committee also approved another eight insurance coverage mandates for which there are no cost estimates. They include including expanding coverage for eye drops and covering medical costs associated with clinical trials for those with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Others include increasing coverage for oral chemotherapy and bleeding disorders.

“I think it’s very realistic for people to have this kind of coverage,” said Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “They used to cover this kind of stuff.”

But Dan Debicella of Shelton, the ranking Republican senator on the Appropriations Committee, said adding mandates doesn’t make sense at a time when the focus is on reducing health care costs.

“This is moving in the exact opposite direction,” he said.

Health insurance mandates were targeted last week by a coalition of local chambers of commerce, the health insurance industry and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

“We need a moratorium on new health care mandates,” said JoAnne Ryan, president of Northwest Connecticut’s Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber leaders say the costs imposed on insurance companies will be passed on to businesses, forcing them to increase premiums and co-pays for their employees or drop coverage entirely.

“The addition of mandates will drain their coffers,” said Michael Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce.

There are currently 60 laws mandating coverage of various conditions by group health insurers, and a follow-up study by UConn of all health mandate costs will be completed by January 2011.

Keith Stover, a lobbyist who represents the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said he can’t say what mandates cost in all, but the expense does get passed along to employers and their workers,

“It’s not irrational to say there are costs with these mandates. … It’s just what the price is. Someone has to pay for it,” he said. “There is no such thing as an insignificant price increase.”

But Ellen Andrews of the Health Policy Project said mandates add only a fraction–perhaps 1.5 percent–to total premium costs.

“It’s hard to imagine that they are going to drive up costs that much,” she said. “Why would they not want to cover preventative care for things that are going to end up costing them more in the long run?”