House approves plan to expand exchange board

The House on Wednesday approved a proposal to expand the membership of the board overseeing the state’s health insurance exchange, a key piece of federal health reform.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would increase the number of voting board members from 11 to 16. Two of the new members would be small employers; Republican legislative leaders would appoint one, while the Senate president pro tempore — Democrat Donald E. Williams Jr. — would appoint the other.

The other two new members would be individual consumers of health care services, one appointed by the Speaker of the House — Democrat Christopher G. Donovan — and the other appointed by Donovan and Williams.

The bill would also make state Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri a voting member; she’s currently on the board but doesn’t have a vote.

The current composition of the board has drawn complaints and protests from consumer advocates and supporters of a publicly run health insurance option, who say the board doesn’t have appropriate representation of consumers or small businesses. They have also taken issue with the appointment of three board members who have worked in the insurance industry.

Board members were appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders from both parties. Currently, the board includes one small business owner, Michael Devine, appointed by House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

The board is charged with creating and overseeing the state’s health insurance exchange, a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy health care coverage beginning in 2014.

An earlier version of the legislation would have added two new members, both appointed by Democratic legislative leaders.

In a statement released after the vote, Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project and a critic of the board composition, said the bill would give consumers and small businesses the representation on the board “that they should have had from the outset.”

“Although some key decisions have already been made without small business and consumer input, these additional voices on the board will provide greater assurance that the very insurance businesses that have brought us skyrocketing premiums and low quality plans will not be the only decision makers,” she said.