SEBAC, SustiNet and Sal Luciano’s letter

No one disputes the basic facts: The head of the largest state employee union, Council 4 AFSCME Executive Director Sal Luciano, sat on the board that developed the proposed SustiNet state-run health care plan. He was among the labor leaders urging state workers to ratify a concession deal that included changes to the state employee health care plan, which union leaders said was not connected to SustiNet.

And, as former legislator and Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie made public on his blog Tuesday, Luciano wrote a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in April, asking him to support SustiNet and saying that, “The state employee health plan will become part of SustiNet.”

But Rennie and union leaders are in dispute over how to connect the dots.

Rennie says that Luciano’s letter vindicates union members who opposed the concession deal. The run-up to the vote on the concession package, which was rejected, was dogged by concerns by some that the health plan changes would have put the state employees into SustiNet. Union leaders and administration officials said that wasn’t true.

Rennie wrote that “indignant union leaders” blamed a misinformation campaign for the concession deal’s defeat, and said union members who opposed the concessions “were characterized as ignorant and paranoid.”

In light of Luciano’s letter, Rennie wrote, “They now appear, however, to have been reasonable, preceptive, and, most dangerous, candid in voicing their concerns.”

In a response distributed to union members Tuesday afternoon, Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, called Rennie’s blog post “nonsense” and “disingenuous,” and said the fact that Luciano supported the “now-dead Sustinet legislation is hardly news.” Luciano has long supported reforming the state’s health care system to make it affordable and accessible to all, O’Connor wrote.

O’Connor said Luciano’s reference to the state employee plan becoming part of SustiNet meant that the state health plan would be part of bidding insurance and would benefit from being part of a larger purchasing “pool.” It did not mean that state employee benefits would change, he said.

O’Connor said the concession deal was never connected to SustiNet, and said it is “outrageous” to suggest that Luciano’s support for SustiNet proves the “false arguments and deliberate lies” about a connection. He said the concession agreement would have made state employee benefits “less subject to legislative manipulation–whether for or against the Sustinet bill or a universal healthcare proposal–than they are now.”

O’Connor’s statement was posted on the SEBAC website under the headline “Latest Attempt to Distort Job and Benefits Saving Agreement Expose Opponents’ Desperation.”

Rennie said Tuesday night, “The union’s disproportionate response to the sharing of Mr. Luciano’s letter with the public emphasizes the confusion that the union has sown among its members with responses to fair questions that were not candid and now look disingenuous.”

The SustiNet bill, which was pending when Luciano wrote to Malloy, would have joined the state employee and retiree pool and other state-funded health plans under a quasi-public authority that would sell insurance to the public. Six days after Luciano’s letter, the Malloy administration and Democratic legislators reached a deal on a scaled-back version of the proposal. A compromise bill that will become law does not create a quasi-public authority or call for selling state-run insurance to the public, but it would allow the state comptroller to let municipalities and some nonprofits buy coverage through the state employee pool.