Gov. Ned Lamont delivering the 2022 State of the State address. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont unveiled a package of health care proposals Thursday aimed at increasing accessibility, promoting primary care and curbing the cost of medication.

The governor revived a measure that was unsuccessful last year — capping the annual cost of prescription drugs at the rate of inflation, plus 2%. Lamont’s proposal last year would have fined drug manufacturers that exceeded that amount.

The bill died after it received substantial pushback from drug makers in Connecticut, including Pfizer, whose COVID-19 vaccination has gone into hundreds of thousands of residents’ arms.

This year’s proposal would also authorize the state Department of Consumer Protection to oversee the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada. An executive order issued by President Joseph Biden directs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to collaborate with states on developing importation programs.

Lamont has proposed that insurers in Connecticut adopt health enhancement programs similar to the one included in the state employee plan. The state program encourages members to seek primary care by offering financial benefits such as lower premiums, co-pays and deductibles to those who attend annual physicals, dental cleanings, screenings for cancer and other routine appointments.

The bill also would require that insurers include the name of members’ primary care providers on their insurance card or the phone number for a hotline that recommends primary care doctors, to help “put care at the fingertips of those who need it.”

“It’s extremely important that we make this connection and create a relationship between members and their primary care providers,” Paul Lombardo, assistant deputy commissioner at the state Insurance Department, said at a press conference Thursday. “Primary care providers can be a physician, it can be a physician’s assistant, it can be an APRN. There is data that suggests if you go through your primary care provider for your services and access to health care, it leads to better outcomes.”

Up to two-thirds of emergency department visits are to treat issues that could have been addressed in a primary care setting for as low as one-tenth of the cost, Lamont noted in his proposal

The governor is also hoping to codify into law an executive order he issued in January 2020, just months before the pandemic started. The order directed the state’s Office of Health Strategy to come up with annual benchmarks for the growing cost of health care, and it required providers, insurers and others in the industry to report their yearly price increases. 

The order is a transparency measure designed to expose the hospitals, medical practices and insurance companies whose costs soar beyond the state-imposed targets. There is no penalty for those who exceed the benchmarks, but Lamont has said the annual reporting requirement would put public pressure on those agencies and companies to keep costs down.

“Now that Connecticut has taken the first actions by executive order, this bill is necessary to ensure a sustainable benchmark initiative program, guarantee access to data necessary to drive accountability, hold entities publicly accountable for meeting set benchmarks, and identify discrete, additional policy initiatives,” the new proposal states.

“Until the governor’s executive order was signed, we did not routinely report on overall health care spending and primary care spending across our state by private payers, by our provider partners, by our state health plan, our Medicaid program, Medicare,” said Victoria Veltri, executive director of the Office of Health Strategy. “We can’t improve what we don’t measure. So this transparency is actually critical.”

Lamont also put funding in his proposed budget for the next fiscal year that would cover a slew of other health care initiatives, including $1.2 million to improve the collection of race, ethnicity and language health care data across agencies. He suggested spending $15 million on the development of a new, 12-bed psychiatric unit at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and another $12 million to bolster doctors’ rates and expand access to inpatient pediatric mental health beds and services.

He recommended rate increases for those working in adult dental care and family planning to help address worker shortages; allocating $35 million to boost the number of education and training programs for aspiring nurses and mental health providers; setting aside $20 million for financial aid for students pursuing a nursing or mental health degree; and putting $17 million toward a student loan forgiveness plan for clinicians who work in underserved communities.

“More than 7,000 qualified applicants were denied admission to Connecticut nursing programs in 2020 due to faculty shortages, lack of student clinical placements, and limited capacity for capstone experiences in specialty areas,” his office noted in a press release.

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.