Details on SustiNet Beginning to Emerge

Board announces timetable, but key questions remain unanswered

Experts advising the SustiNet Board on setting the future of healthcare in Connecticut say the state program could influence some small businesses to drop their insurance plans, which means their employees could find themselves uninsured. That’s an ironic outcome for a group whose mission is to increase the number of insured people in Connecticut.

The SustiNet board of directors is required to deliver a report to the legislature outlining its plan to implement healthcare reform in the state. Lawmakers will then decide whether to move forward with the plan as presented, adopt an amended strategy, or take no action.

Plan Begins to Take Shape

At a recent board meeting, SustiNet directors began articulating their vision for the state-run plan. According to a Yankee Institute report, board members agreed that SustiNet should start by insuring all state and municipal employees as well as all Medicaid and HUSKY enrollees. They also agreed that SustiNet should reserve the option of expanding its covered population at a future date to potentially include small-business and nonprofit employees.

A few days later, board members announced a potential timetable for implementing SustiNet that clearly reflects the decisions made at their meeting:

2011—Combine all Medicaid, HUSKY, and SAGA participants and state employees/retirees into one omnibus group

2012—Expand the populations that would be eligible for HUSKY and open SustiNet to small businesses and municipalities

2014—Sell SustiNet inside and outside Connecticut’s new, federally required health insurance exchange

Despite the progress by the SustiNet board, several key questions about their plan have yet to be answered.

How Much Will SustiNet Cost?

The levels of insurance coverage in SustiNet have not been determined, so the total price of the plan remains speculative. (Startup costs are also unknown.) The real cost of any health insurance plan depends on what exactly is being covered and provided.

Haven’t Things Changed?

All of the options considered by SustiNet ostensibly will save the state money because they assume that more federal funding will be available. That’s a risky assumption, however, given the political change in Congress and likely efforts by the new House GOP to change, roll back, or potentially strip funding from key elements of federal healthcare reform.

How Will SustiNet Impact Jobs?

Employers in Connecticut say uncertainty over federal healthcare reforms is one of the reasons they’re not currently adding jobs. SustiNet, a state-run plan with undetermined costs that will depend on federal dollars, only adds to the uncertainty and further threatens business confidence. In addition, SustiNet has the potential to undermine the private insurance market, which accounts for tens-of-thousands of jobs in Connecticut.

Will It Cut or Just Shift Costs?

SustiNet board members correctly say that small businesses are struggling with the cost of healthcare. The board has, in fact, explored ways to cut costs, including the use of the patient-centered medical home concept, electronic medical records, and payment reform. And that’s precisely what the primary focus of healthcare reform should be—actually reducing costs rather than simply changing our healthcare financing system.

Unfortunately, it seems the primary aim of SustiNet is to move more people into taxpayer-funded plans rather than lower costs. Doing so will significantly increase state spending at a time when our elected officials are working to reduce the size and cost of state government.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric George at 860.244.1921 or eric.george@cbia.com.

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