Malloy and Wyman pitch health plan

Standing outside a community health center in Manchester, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy outlined a health care plan that includes expanding the availability of subsidized coverage for children under the state’s HUSKY program.

Too many people are “not properly cared for in one of the richest states in the nation,” Malloy said Monday as he proposed expanding the eligibility for HUSKY.

Malloy also said he would expand a program to let doctors, not insurers, manage health care for HUSKY clients.

Appearing with his running mate, Comptroller Nancy Wyman, Malloy proposed increasing the eligibilty for subsidized coverage under the HUSKY B plan to children from families making up to 385 percent the federal poverty level.

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Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman outside the Manchester clinic where they discussed their health care proposals (Jacqueline Rabe)

Currently, subsidized premiums and co-pays are available for children whose parents earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level, or $43,710 for a single parent with one child. Malloy’s plan would extend eligibility to a two-person household making up to $56,094.

To pay for this, Malloy plans to ask Washington to pick up some of the tab.

“We will not refuse to access healthcare dollars in Washington literally sitting in accounts with our name on it on the basis of ideological differences,” he said.

But Republican gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel was quick to criticize Malloy’s plan, saying expanding state-funded plans should not be even considered, since the state will still be responsible for paying for some of the costs.

“Now how are we going to pay for that? If all we talk about is expanding coverage we are going to bankrupt the state. We can’t just keep paying and paying,” he said.

The state currently spends about $7 billion each year for health coverage – which includes the 394,047 people currently on HUSKY as well as other health insurance plans.

David Dearborn, spokesman for the Department of Social Services, also questioned whether the federal government would cover the increased eligibility.

“Connecticut was one of the first states to push the envelope to provide subsidized coverage for children up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, with federal financial participation,” he said. “We are aware that some other states, such as Vermont, tried to go up to 350 percent or higher, but were not successful in getting federal approval.”

Connecticut’s HUSKY A and HUSKY B plans are currently partially reimbursed from Washington at a rate of 62 percent and 65 percent respectively. HUSKY A is available to children and parents or caregivers who make up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or pregnant women up to 250 percent. HUSKY B provides coverage for children in higher-income families.

Dearborn said DSS has not determined how many more people would become eligible for subsidies if the threshold is expanded to 385 percent ofthe poverty level.

Malloy and Wyman also proposed expanding the HUSKY Primary Care program, which removes insurance companies from managing clients’ care and has their primary care doctors make the calls, from approving treatment by specialists to arranging tests.

Currently HUSKY Primary Care is available in six towns across the state; proposals to expand the plan statewide earlier this year failed. Malloy and Wyman want to make it available to everyone enrolled in HUSKY.

They say the move has the potential to save the state millions by allowing the doctors, who best know their patients, to decide what medical treatment is needed. But critics argue that the plan puts a heavy administrative burden on physicians without adequate reimbursement.

Other proposals include allowing towns, small businesses and the self-employed to pool their health insurance programs. Two years ago Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a comprehensive pooling bill, and Wyman said it’s time for the state to try again once she is no longer governor. Rell did sign a “mini pooling” prescription drug bill earlier this month that allows boards of education and municipalities to join a state employee prescription drug plan.

Wyman said pooling health insurance is a “job creator” because it allows businesses to collectively purchase health insurance for their employees at a cheaper rate.

Other proposals include increasing funding for nursing homes and preparing to get the SustiNet board’s recommendations implemented when they are released in January. Wyman is the co-chairwoman of the SustiNet Board, which was created to plan for improving health care in Connecticut, including a public health insurance option for all state residents.