Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has expressed serious concern about Connecticut’s decision to delay a decision on implementing a new high risk insurance pool for people with serious health problems.

In a sharply worded letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Dodd asked a series of questions about her decision to defer signing a contract with the federal Department of Health and Human Services. That contract would have allowed the state to begin accepting applications from patients locked out of the private insurance market and tap into an estimated $50 million pot of federal money to provide them with coverage.

“The timing of these actions by the state are cause for great concern,” Dodd wrote in a July 2 letter to Rell. “I would like to better understand what the state’s plans are to ensure that no residents of Connecticut, who would otherwise be eligible, will be denied access to this new federal insurance program.”

Dodd asked Rell why the state waited until the day after the federal deadline for the new program to announce that Connecticut was still reviewing premium rates and might opt to have the federal government run the program, instead of creating a state-operated pool.

“The state’s late announcement raises several questions about its true intentions,” Dodd said.

Donna Tommelleo, a spokeswoman for Rell, defended the governor’s decision as in the best interest of state residents who need this program.

“The Governor is asking for time to examine the rate structure because the rates Connecticut is being charged are considerably higher than other states, including some neighboring states,” Tommelleo said. “Her concerns are that costs may be unaffordable for the very people they are intended to help.”

She said Dodd’s energy would be “better spent working for lower rates and a fairer rate structure for his home state than sending demanding letters. This is a national program and an issue that should be dealt with at the federal level.”

The new high-risk pools are part of the federal health care reform overhaul, which Dodd helped craft. They are designed to provide health insurance for people who have pre-existing health conditions and who have been without insurance for at least six months. Congress established a $5 billion pot of money to create the new high-risk insurance pools and gave states the option of running their own program or having the federal government run it for them.

Connecticut initially indicated that it would set up its own pool, as 28 other states and the District of Columbia are doing. State officials crafted a lengthy application and submitted it to HHS on June 2.

But on Thursday, the day the federal Department of Health and Human Services rolled out the new program, Rell expressed concerns that the premiums calculated by the state’s actuarial consultants may be “beyond the reach” of Connecticut residents with pre-existing conditions, the target population for these new insurance pools. She asked top state officials at the Department of Social Services and two other state agencies to review the premiums and consider whether it would make more sense to have the federal government run the program.

Rell asked them to complete the review by July 15.

That lengthy period for review is of particular concern, said Dodd.

“A delay in making this determination until July 15th is cause for great concern, as individuals in the 21 states relying on HHS to run the PCIP are already able to apply as of July 1st,” Dodd wrote. “Individuals enrolled in this plan by July 15th will begin receiving coverage by August 1, 2010.  Therefore, in my view, it is critical that you make a final decision prior to July 15.”

Tommelleo said Rell had “every intention of ensuring that Connecticut citizens benefit from the health care reform bill.”

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