Monthly Archives: May 2011

Democratic leaders back bill to shorten leash on elections watchdog

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan’s appointee to the State Elections Enforcement Commission says a budget bill co-sponsored by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate is about to put the watchdog agency on too short a leash. A sweeping budget-implementation bill approved Tuesday night by the House limits the tenure of every elections commissioner and ends the agency’s practice of auditing every legislative campaign. The bill now goes to the Senate, where approval is assured. “It looks like the legislature is dismantling the agency that oversees it,” said Anthony J. Castagno, the commissioner appointed by Donovan. “I’m really surprised that’s the direction the legislature is going.” Continue Reading →

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Budget bill postpones changes to accounting rules for two years

Despite Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s campaign pledge to convert state government to a more accurate and transparent accounting system, a budget policy bill passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday delays most of the changes–including starting to pay off the $1.5 billion conversion cost–for another two years. The measure, which was approved 91-54 and now heads to the Senate, also broadens the Executive Branch’s authority to incur expenses after the fiscal year has begun while reducing the level of detail required in the governor’s annual budget presentation. One of several omnibus bills designed to implement the $40.11 billion biennial budget adopted in early May, the measure also changes the suspension rules tied to drunken driving, tempers an earlier change to Medicaid-funded vision benefits, and orders several other policy changes. Perhaps the most far-reaching policy change is conversion to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, a series of common financial guidelines established by the Government Accounting Standards Board to emphasize transparency and touted constantly by Malloy last fall. Unlike the modified cash basis currently used, under GAAP expenses must be promptly assigned to the year in which they were incurred. Continue Reading →

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Senate passes health insurance exchange bill

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to create a health insurance exchange, laying the groundwork for a new insurance market that will play a key role in expanding coverage under the federal health reform law.The bill, which passed the Senate 23 to 13 and will now go to the House, establishes a quasi-public agency that would be charged with developing and running the exchange, a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy health insurance.The exchange does not have to be up and running until 2014, and some Republican lawmakers questioned why the state should move forward now, while other states are challenging the constitutionality of the health reform law and many key details must still be provided by the federal government. Advocates of the bill have said there is too much work to be done to wait until next year. Several other states are also moving forward with exchange legislation.”I think it’s very important that as we look at the exchange, we understand that what we’re really talking about is a process that makes getting health care easier for folks,” Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said at the end of a 2 1/2 hour debate.The exchange will have a wide range of responsibilities. It will offer a choice of health plans–all or most are expected to be from private insurance carriers–to individuals and small businesses, including those who qualify for federal subsidies to buy coverage. It will give consumers a way to comparison shop for plans, operating a website that some have compared to travel websites like Orbitz.As part of the federal reform law, insurance plans sold on the exchange will be subject to more rules than the existing market requires. Continue Reading →

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Both parties hope to win by losing in gridlocked Congress

WASHINGTON–The House killed a high-stakes proposal Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling, a vote that carried economic repercussions, budget implications, and political fallout. But its fate was sealed well before the roll call even began. On the off chance the bill could have garnered a simple majority in the House, Republican leaders decided to bring the debt-ceiling proposal up for a vote under a special procedure that required a super-majority–a threshold they knew the measure couldn’t hit. And because they knew it would fail, GOP leaders also set the vote for after 6:30 p.m., when the stock markets were closed, to limit the economic gyrations that could result.
For House Republicans, Tuesday’s vote was more about proving what couldn’t pass than about debating what could. It’s a popular tactic these days–winning political leverage by creating legislative gridlock. Continue Reading →

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Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut’s governor in a hurry

The question asked by an exasperated state legislator at an informational hearing last week was the one posed frequently, if not publicly, at the state Capitol about Connecticut’s always-in-a-hurry governor: “Why can’t this wait?” The query by Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, concerned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s fast-track plan to remake the UConn Health Center, but it could have applied to any major initiative, beginning with the budget. In five months in office, Malloy has recalibrated life at the Capitol: Bigger is better, and the only acceptable speeds are fast, faster and fastest.  That’s left legislators and lobbyists struggling to adjust to new rhythms and habits, including seeing a governor directly, restlessly lobby bills. Malloy insisted on the legislature passing his record $1.4 billion tax increase a month before the session’s June 8 adjournment. His $864 million UConn plan is speeding along with only an informational hearing by the legislature. Continue Reading →

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HHS tweaks high-risk insurance program

Top federal health officials announced Tuesday that they would drop a major requirement for sick patients to get access to a new insurance option offered under the health reform law. The health reform law created new high-risk insurance plans for patients with pre-existing conditions. But participation has been limited, in part because applicants had to prove they’ve been uninsured for six months to qualify for the new program. The federal Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday they would nix that requirement-and also cut monthly premiums for the program. The move is a tactic acknowledgement that the program hasn’t been as successful as anticipated. Continue Reading →

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Amended inmate early-release bill passes House

The state House of Representatives put an end Tuesday afternoon to the running partisan debate over allowing inmates to earn credits for early release, sending a message that would create such a system to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk. The Democrat-controlled House voted 90-56, largely along party lines, to approve the measure following more than three house of debate. The cleared the Senate in a similarly partisan vote on Friday after more than seven hours of discussion. Malloy, also a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill, given that the director of his Criminal Policy and Planning Division, Michael P. Lawlor, has lobbied strongly for it, arguing it would be an effective tool at enhancing rehabilitation and fighting recidivism. “If this is a question of being soft on crime, I say, ‘Baloney,'” said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. Continue Reading →

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Clem Roy, lobbyist and bon vivant, dies at 65

Clem Roy, one of most delightfully idiosyncratic characters ever to grace the halls of the state Capitol, died today at Hartford Hospital, just weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Roy, 65, was a successful lobbyist with a largely business clientele, but a much, much broader portfolio of interests and causes. He managed 1981 mayoral campaign of Thirman Milner, the first black mayor of Hartford. He was deeply interested in the arts. He gambled, golfed and enjoyed cigars. Continue Reading →

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Is testing the answer to education system’s shortcomings?

As the academic standing of American students among their international peers has declined, one reaction has been to expand testing to the point where many students take state and federal exams at every grade level. But many countries whose education systems consistently outperform the United States’ test far less frequently, Stephen Sawchuk reports at Education Week. A new report by the National Center on Education and the Economy finds that “no other country has grade-by-grade national testing,” Sawchuk says. High-performing nations such as Japan and Singapore tend to use tests at “gateways,” such as the end of elementary or secondary education. Academically successful nations also have higher standards for teacher certification, and those standards are reflected in pay, autonomy and career opportunities. Continue Reading →

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One place to improve government efficiency: Pharmacy benefits

Gov. Dannel Malloy campaigned on a pledge to make government smarter and more efficient, and he is generally making good on that promise.   One area where he can demonstrate this is in the streamlining of access to prescription medications under Medicaid and other state medical assistance programs.
There are about 525,000 state residents who receive prescription drugs under one of these programs.  Some of these drugs are quite expensive, and drug companies extensively market to doctors in an attempt to steer them into prescribing those drugs.  So many states, including Connecticut, have adopted Preferred Drug Lists (PDLs) containing drugs considered generally as effective as, but less expensive than, other drugs kept off the list.  Drugs on the list are readily available with just a prescription, while those not on it are only available through prior authorization (PA), to discourage their use.  This system can save money, but, recognizing that, for many individuals, drugs in the same therapeutic class are not interchangeable and could even be dangerous, PA must be allowed. The scheme sounds good, but it often falls apart: There are multiple insurance lists that doctors must work with, and they are all different and often changing, so doctors routinely write prescriptions for drugs requiring PA without first checking whether they require it.  When the Medicaid or HUSKY patient presents the prescription at the pharmacy, it is electronically denied by the Department of Social Services. The pharmacist may be authorized to provide a temporary supply, but this works only once. Busy pharmacists with customers in line cannot be expected to call the prescriber to explain that no more of the drug will be available unless they  obtain PA, let alone to identify cheaper alternative drugs. Continue Reading →

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Malloy dips heavily into fiscal cushion to avoid more budget cuts

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recommended Friday that lawmakers significantly reduce the surplus already built into the next two fiscal years rather than impose deeper cuts in the $40.11 billion biennial budget adopted earlier this month. To close a $300 million in gap in next year’s budget left by the tentative union concession package, Malloy proposed cutting just $40.6 million–and more than half of that comes from controversial, newfound savings in retiree health care benefits. In a two-page summary of the budget reconciliation proposal he will deliver to the General Assembly on Tuesday, the governor recommended using $259.4 million of the projected surplus for 2011-12 fiscal year to fill the rest of next year’s gap. Similarly, the governor would use another $59.7 million in surplus to close a $100 million gap in 2012-13, also tied to the concession deal. The biennial budget, which would spend $19.83 billion next fiscal year and $20.29 billion in 2012-13, featured unprecedented built-in surpluses of $371 million and $638 million, respectively. Continue Reading →

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Inmate early release credits sparks partisan Senate battle

Majority Democratic lawmakers tried unsuccessfully Friday to avert a partisan battle in the Senate over a new policy designed to shrink the prison population by allowing inmates to earn credits for early release. The Senate adopted the policy–included in a budget implementation bill–following a 6½ hour debate during which GOP lawmakers criticized a Democratic amendment aimed at curbing objections and offered 12 amendments of their own to limit the credit system. The bill, which had been adopted in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday without much partisan rancor, now must return to that chamber because Senate Democrats approved it with slight modifications on Friday. “This has nothing to do with public safety,” said Sen. John A. Kissel of Enfield, ranking Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee, said of the bill, which would institute a “risk reduction” credit system that would reduce some sentences by no more than five days per month. Those credits would hinge on inmates not only avoiding bad behavior, but participating in adult education, mental health or substance abuse counseling or any other programs designed to help them function in society after release. Continue Reading →

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SustiNet compromise passes House with both sides declaring victory

A compromise bill on the controversial SustiNet state-run health plan passed the House Friday, and it drew praise from both supporters and opponents of the original proposal–albeit for different reasons. SustiNet supporters say the bill represents concrete steps toward their ultimate goal, offering a state-run insurance plan to the public. Opponents of the original proposal, meanwhile, said the compromise rightly focuses the state on implementing federal health reform, not the so-called public option that SustiNet backers sought. SustiNet supporters watch the House debate
The bill, which passed 88-48 and will now go to the Senate, calls for allowing municipalities to buy insurance through the state beginning in 2012. Nonprofits that contract with the state would be allowed to buy in in 2013. Continue Reading →

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Prague: On advice from A.G., Senate gives up on ‘captive audience’ bill passed by House

Legislators said Friday that Attorney General George Jepsen, a staunch ally of labor, effectively has killed a legislative priority of the Connecticut AFL-CIO by advising them that federal labor law appears to pre-empt the state from passing a “captive audience” bill. The House of Representatives passed the controversial bill two weeks ago, 78 to 65, after an 11-hour debate in which the key sponsor, Rep. Zeke Zalaski, D-Southington, relied on a letter from Jepsen assuring him that the bill was legally sound. An unhappy Zalaski said that Jepsen visited him earlier this week to inform him that additional legal research by his staff concluded that the state cannot bar employers from requiring employees to attend a meeting called to discuss religious or political matters. “I just said, ‘You couldn’t tell me that before I did the bill?’ ” Zalaski said. Continue Reading →

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Q&A: Expert assesses the impact of new HIV research

Scientific researchers recently released data from a high-profile study showing that people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were significantly less likely to transmit the virus to their partners if they were put on antiretroviral drugs immediately, when their immune systems were still relatively strong, instead of waiting for the disease to progress. A top HIV scientist at the National Institutes of Health official, Anthony S. Fauci, said the study “convincingly demonstrates that treating the infected individual-and doing so sooner rather than later-can have a major impact on reducing HIV transmission.” The Connecticut Mirror spoke with Jack Ross, an infectious disease doctor and director of Hartford Hospital’s HIV Program, about the clinical, financial, and societal implications of this new research. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation:
CT Mirror: What was your reaction to the study’s findings? Ross: This study confirmed that there’s a huge benefit to getting people tested, getting them into care and on treatment-and that you’re going to have a 95 to 96 percent reduction in transmission to their partners. Continue Reading →

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