As has become their custom, supporters of universal health care spent opening day of the legislative session at the Capitol wearing red “healthcare4every1” T-shirts and urging lawmakers to support alternatives to private health insurance.

Universal health care supporters

Universal health care supporters on opening day

Last year, the effort was centered on SustiNet, a proposed state-run insurance plan. The proposal ran into opposition from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who raised concerns about its cost. A compromise passed that did not create a public insurance program, but supporters are now calling it a “building block” of reform.

With Malloy touting education initiatives and a short legislative session, health care is likely to get less attention at the Capitol this year, although some proposals related to federal health reform are likely.

Advocates for universal health care, coordinated by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, this year have three main priorities: Expand the membership of the health insurance exchange board, which is developing a marketplace for insurance coverage under federal reform, to include consumers and small businesses. Ensure there are nonprofit health plan alternatives to private insurance plans. And establish a basic health program for residents whose incomes fall just above the limit for Medicaid once health reform rolls out in 2014.

They’ll likely have some support in the legislature. On Tuesday, the Insurance and Real Estate Committee voted to draft a bill on the exchange board membership, and Human Services Committee co-Chairman Peter Tercyak said getting the basic health program passed is his top priority.

The Malloy administration has signaled that it’s open to reconsidering the exchange board composition, but because the fiscal impact of the basic health program will be based in part on information that is not yet available, getting it passed this year could be a tougher job.

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Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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