The high cost of health care in Connecticut is a problem that cannot be ignored. Connecticut’s health care costs are among the highest in the country and with those costs rising at a rate faster than personal income, access to affordable care is becoming increasingly limited for many residents.

While some important steps have been taken, we have only begun to chart a path to affordable health care for all residents.

In March, the Office of Health Strategy released Connecticut’s first-ever health care cost growth benchmark report. The benchmark initiative was created to hold the health care system accountable for providing affordable health care to residents. The report showed that health care spending in the state increased by 6 percent between 2020 and 2021, surpassing the State’s benchmark of 3.4 percent.

Connecticut spent $34 billion on health care and insurance costs in 2021, up from $31.9 billion in 2019 and $30.9 billion in 2020. Commercial health insurance spending was the biggest contributor to cost growth with an 18.8 percent increase. While the 2020-2021 cost growth was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in Connecticut exceeds that of other states with benchmarks including Massachusetts and Rhode Island which experienced increases in commercial costs of 16 percent and 10 percent respectively. That means that families and individuals across our state are seeing higher growth in their health care costs than those in neighboring states.

Another indicator of excessive health care spending was just recently released. The Commonwealth Fund released its 2023 scorecard on state health system performance and, while Connecticut had an excellent rating of sixth in the country overall, the state ranked 46th when it came to employer-sponsored insurance costs with spending per enrollee well above the national average. This means residents are spending more on health care than residents in other states with similar quality rankings.

We cannot continue down the path of allowing health care costs to increase out of proportion to household income. As health care costs rise for employers, they have responded out of necessity by shifting costs to employees and by reducing investments in their workforce and other aspects of growing their business. This further amplifies the impacts of high health care costs.

High insurance premiums mean many individuals are unable to access care due to financial constraints. This problem is especially pronounced among residents in lower-income households who often lack access to adequate health services and may be forced to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford essential treatments or medications.

In the 12 months prior to the October 2022 Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey by Altarum Healthcare Value Hub, 51 percent of Connecticut residents with commercial coverage went without care due to costs. Affordability was even more problematic for commercially insured residents with a disability and residents of color. Sixty seven percent of disabled residents went without care while 57 percent and 55 percent of Black and Hispanic residents respectively went without care due to costs.

House Bill 6669 recently signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont will serve to reduce health care costs and improve the delivery of care across the state. It enhances competition by banning contracting practices that make it harder for insurers and consumers to learn about and access the highest quality, lowest cost providers and injecting transparency for providers into insurer contracting practices.

The new law also takes on high prescription drug prices that have been growing at an alarming rate. It authorizes the Connecticut Comptroller to join a multi-state consortium to access discounted drugs and create a drug discount card program available to all Connecticut residents. It also creates greater transparency around large drug price increases and makes drug marketers more accountable for providing clear, accurate and transparent information about the drugs they are marketing.

Legislative action is a critical step to ensure that all residents in Connecticut have access to quality health care at an affordable price. However, the issue is complex and all stakeholders need to play a role in reform. In June, my office held a public hearing on the cost growth benchmark initiative which brought together key stakeholders including a drug manufacturer, hospitals, insurers, and providers that contributed to health care cost growth in the state. Having everyone at the table to discuss strategies for mitigating cost growth is an important step forward.

The current health care cost growth in Connecticut is unsustainable. When citizens are unable to get the care they need, it is unacceptable and not reflective of our state values. If we do not all work together now, the cost of health care in the state will continue to rise, disproportionately impacting those with lower incomes and making it more difficult for all to access quality care.

Dr. Deidre Gifford is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy.