Malloy: Federal officials prepared to help state implement health reform

WASHINGTON–The Obama Administration’s top health officials are preparing a dossier of documents to help Connecticut’s Gov.-elect Dan Malloy implement the federal health care reform law.

And as newly-elected Republican governors are looking for ways to block or limit the federal law in their states, Malloy, a Democrat, said he will take the opposite approach.

During a meeting in Washington with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday, Malloy said he wanted to take a “much more activist role” in embracing the sweeping overhaul than Gov. M. Jodi Rell has.

He said HHS officials indicated to him that so far, Connecticut is charting a middling course when it comes to health reform.

“I got the sense that we are not a leader, but we’re not a lagger,” Malloy said. HHS officials said they would prepare a file for him laying out where the state stands on key reform benchmarks, what federal waivers might be helpful for the state, and other guidance.

Malloy said he still has not made any decision about who he will tap to help him put the pieces of the new health care law into place. But, he said, “I want to implement health care in Connecticut in a way that it makes us more competitive with the other states.”

A spokeswoman for Rell defended the governor’s approach to health reform, noting that she put together a health care reform cabinet to oversee the effort.

Those officials have “been diligently working on making sure the state complies with the new law and is in a strong position to take advantage of the programs that will provide health care to more of our citizens,” Rell’s office said in a statement. “Because of the Governor’s leadership on this issue, Connecticut is clearly ahead of the curve.”

But Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said there was considerable room for improvement in the state’s efforts to take advantage of grant opportunities and other changes under the new law.

For example, she said, current state officials resisted a push to include 500,000 Medicare beneficiaries in a recent federal grant proposal for a three-year medical home demonstration project for state employees and Medicaid recipients, even though it would have meant more federal dollars.

In his meeting on Wednesday, Malloy also made an aggressive pitch to Sebelius for the University of Connecticut’s $100 million grant application to help revamp John Dempsey Hospital.

“I told her that I had a bigger commitment to the hospital and the research component than the outgoing governor and that she could expect, over the not-to-distant future, a bigger commitment being made by the state if these monies happen to come our way to start the process,” Malloy said.

“My administration will look at the health center, and particularly the research foundation, as a job producer,” he added. “And as such we’re going to produce a plan with respect to the updating of that facility–building a first-class research facility capable of doing late-stage trials in cooperation with the Yale medical complex.”

Malloy declined to put a dollar figure on how much his administration, which is facing a $3 billion-plus budget deficit, would put towards the project if the state wins the federal grant. He also demurred when asked about Sebelius’s response to his plea, saying it was a private conversation.

Larry McHugh, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at UConn, said he strongly supports Malloy’s efforts to bolster UConn and its Health Center grant, although he added that the center would “not be a reality” without Rell’s work.

Sebelius indicated that a decision about the grant could be made soon, possibly later this month.