Senate casualty: Insurance exchange board expansion

What killed a proposal to expand the board overseeing the state’s health insurance exchange?

Advocates for universal health care, who have been protesting at board meetings and lobbying for the addition of consumer and small business representatives to a board they said is tilted toward the insurance industry, blamed Senate Republicans, saying they prevented majority Democrats from bringing the bill to a vote before the legislative session ended Wednesday night.

“Correcting the gross imbalance in the makeup of this crucial player in the future of health care is absolutely necessary for the consumers and small businesses in our state,” Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said in a statement released early Thursday. “Consumer and small business advocates, and labor, good government and clergy activists fought long and hard over the past eight months for a solution and in the final hours of the session, the Senate still couldn’t get the job done.”

The proposal passed the House unanimously last week after the bill was amended to require four new board members appointed by legislative leaders from both parties. The original bill would have added two members, appointed by Democratic leaders. Both versions would have given a vote to state Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, who is now a nonvoting member.

On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, Jr., D-Brooklyn, also cited the Republicans.

“We were told that it would be filibustered to death,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, meanwhile, said, “Democrats didn’t want to do the bill, and so we didn’t do it.”

McKinney said his caucus would have preferred a bill that added fewer members to the board, and said a version that added fewer members would have passed easily. He said he hadn’t been part of the agreement made before the House vote to add four new members.

The board, which is overseeing the development of a marketplace for buying insurance as part of federal health reform, is made up of members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders from both parties. Critics have taken issue with the appointment of three members who have worked for insurance companies and have said consumers and small businesses aren’t adequately represented. The board currently has one small business owner on it, appointed by House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, Jr., R-Norwalk.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the board, said Thursday that she was surprised the bill did not pass the Senate. At the session drew to a close Wednesday, she was more focused on ensuring the passage of a bill creating an all-payer claims database to gather information on health care usage and spending, which passed the Senate as part of a consent calendar after facing a lengthy debate in the House.

So what happens next?

Williams said he expects to work with advocates “and see if we can find some solution that’s doable in both chambers.” But Williams said he didn’t know whether it could be addressed during the special session planned to address budget implementation bills.

McKinney was less interested in changing the board composition. “I don’t know that the exchange is flawed,” he said.

McKinney’s appointee, former ConnectiCare CEO Mickey Herbert, has drawn some of the most intense criticism from advocates. But McKinney said that Herbert “probably has more experience in creating insurance products than anyone on the exchange. But simply because he worked for a for-profit insurance company, he’s attacked.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also faced criticism for one of his board appointments, former Aetna executive Mary Fox. In the past, he defended his picks and said Wyman, his appointee, should be considered a consumer advocate. Malloy was expected to agree to expanding the board if the bill passed.

Asked about next steps Thursday, Wyman said she hadn’t had a chance to discuss the exchange board with the governor. In the past, Wyman said she believed the board composition struck an appropriate balance, but suggested that critics of the board who disagreed seek changes through legislation.

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