Excerpt of the state employee healthcare system home page.

The COVID-19 health and economic crisis lays bare the need for a real public option healthcare bill in Connecticut. Senate Bill 842, which received a public hearing on February 9, expands the coverage of the current state employee health care plan to allow small businesses, non-profits, and unions to buy into the plan that fits their needs. It also expands Medicaid eligibility, increases subsidies for individuals already on the state health care exchange, and provides subsidies for immigrants, regardless of status.

State Reps. Kate Farrar (left) and Jillian Gilchrest.

As two of West Hartford’s state representatives, we heard stories from countless constituents on the campaign trail last year about difficulties faced by families and small businesses alike. And, at a time when we’re all only as healthy as our neighbor or the food delivery person who stops by our door, we know that creating additional healthcare solutions is essential to keep our state healthy.

Individuals can’t afford to keep being forced into choices between unaffordable high-deductible plans, or no healthcare coverage at all. Expanded eligibility for the state Medicaid program means more working-class families can access insurance they can afford. And undocumented folks have been left behind by federal relief programs — yet here in Connecticut, we know that we can care for all of our neighbors regardless of race, zip code, or documentation status.

The governor’s budget, released on February 10, recognized the high costs of healthcare, with proposals to impose penalties on drug companies that raise their prices for medications without any justification and the establishment of a new tax on insurers to increase AccessHealthCT subsidies. But, the governor’s proposal did not increase funding for Medicaid nor offer a health care solution for our undocumented community. Plus, he didn’t address the struggles that small businesses face right now to provide their employees with healthcare. This is why the legislature needs to act.

With over 350,000 employees of small businesses in Connecticut who don’t offer health insurance, we need a path to offer real relief that’s affordable, accessible, and uncomplicated. Joining the existing state employee health plan offers high-quality and predictable coverage, a must for our small business community. They can choose the plan that suits their benefits and budget needs without worrying about breaking the bank.

As the pandemic has dragged on for the last year, we’ve asked our nonprofit community to shoulder more and more of the burden of caring for the people of Connecticut, without offering adequate support. Futures Inc., a West Hartford nonprofit that serves individuals with disabilities, is an example as they’ve experienced significant rising healthcare costs while struggling to support their frontline workers with PPE. The least we can do is ensure they have the opportunity to access healthcare plans that work for them and their employees, while they work for all of us.

Across Connecticut and our country, voters let us know that they care about an equitable and serious response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed public option legislation will reduce costs while expanding access to high-quality and affordable care — this should be a win-win for our state. We cannot afford to maintain the status quo in this crisis. SB 842 moves us in the right direction, and we hope we can count on the support of our colleagues and Governor Lamont as we continue the 2021 Legislative Session.

State Reps. Kate Farrar (Connecticut House 20th District) and Jillian Gilchrest (18th District) both represent West Hartford.

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