Photo: Emilie Munson / Hearst Connecticut Media
The first votes in the 2020 presidential campaign are almost a year away, but it’s already clear health care is going to be among the top issues. Whether it’s Medicare for All or a smaller-scale option, nearly all the many Democrats aiming for their party’s nomination are planning an overhaul of some sort.
Meanwhile, the president — whose administration is supporting a lawsuit that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and drop health coverage from millions of people overnight — says he is going to wait until after the next election to come out with a plan of his own. He hasn’t said anything specific, but talked it up recently nonetheless: “This is going to be something, I think, that has even more potential. It’s going to be a better plan. I already know what they’re doing with it.”
While the threat of lost coverage is real, encouraging action at the state level means change for the better doesn’t have to wait until after the 2020 cycle. As tolls and marijuana take center stage, a bill under consideration in Hartford could not only improve coverage but help fulfill some of the unrealized promise of the 2010 health care law.
Among the ideas strongly considered during the ACA debate was known as the public option, and it would have entailed a government-run insurance plan that anyone could buy into. Some people would find it preferable to whatever private plans were available, other would stick with what they had, but everyone would have more choices, and competition would help keep prices down.
For a variety of reasons, the federal public option was not part of the final bill. Now, the idea is back in Connecticut in a bill supported by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
The bill would open up the health insurance plan available to state workers for anyone in a small business, from one to 50 employees. Within a few years, the plan would extend to individuals not connected to a business.
The state already has a similar partnership open to municipalities, and dozens of towns, cities and school boards take part. By broadening the pool, the plan can open opportunities that would never be affordably available to smaller groups seeking coverage.
A public option extended to businesses and individuals would operate on the same principle.
Republicans have raised concerns about costs outweighing the amount that comes in from premiums, and Lembo acknowledged that’s a worry, at least initially. Within a few years, the system would likely stabilize, he said. Startup costs would pay off with a healthier, less volatile system in the long run.
Health insurance remains out of reach for too many people in Connecticut, and a public option would make the state a leader in health policy. Opening a reliable path to obtain insurance while encouraging existing carriers to improve their products to compete is a win for everyone. The state needs to pass the public option.