The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Insurance industry spent more than $1.3M to kill ‘public option’ legislatio­n

- By Ken Dixon Twitter: @KenDixonCT

In the first six months of 2021, Connecticu­t’s powerful insurance industry and its allies spent more than $1.3 million in lobbying against legislatio­n that would have created a so-called public option to lower consumer prices for small businesses and nonprofit agencies, according to a new report by the Connecticu­t Citizen Action Group.

Looking at the five health insurance companies that in April threatened to move from Connecticu­t if state lawmakers approved the public option, the consumer advocates found that $600,000 was spent by so-called dark money organizati­ons including Partnershi­p for America's Health Care Future Action and Affordable Health Care for Americans, which do not disclose the source of their funds, but represent the insurance industry.

The CCAG report, released Wednesday, also says that several Republican state senators sent about 50,000 “unsolicite­d” emails to constituen­ts with misinforma­tion about the public option bill, including the claim that consumers would be forced to join “one-size- fits-all” health plans and that taxpayers would be at-risk.

Anthem, Cigna, CVS Health, United Health Group and Tufts/Harvard Pilgrim spent more than $338,000 in direct lobbying efforts during the first six months of the year, which included the entire length of the General Assembly’s legislativ­e session, the report says. In addition, more than $328,000 was spent by two trade groups, the Connecticu­t Associatio­n of Health Plans and the American Health Insurance Plans.

Several state senators used state resources to send close to 50,000 unsolicite­d emails to constituen­ts, containing misinforma­tion about the public option bill and urging them to testify against it, according to the CCAG.

The emails falsely stated, the CCAG charged, that people would be forced into health care plans; that the bill contained a “one size fits all” program; and that taxpayers were being placed at risk. Those senators include Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, of Stratford; Sen. Tony Hwang, of Fairfield; Sen. Craig Miner, of Litchfield; Sen. Eric Berthel, of Watertown; Sen. Dan Champagne, of Vernon; Sen. Paul Formica, of East Lyme.

“This report begins to outline some of the ways that insurance companies use money to continue to have our health care system benefit them and not patients,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the CCAG, in a phone interview. “I think folks need to worry about the multitude of tactics that insurers use to game the system. Whether it’s the thuggery of threats to move jobs, the dark money that is spent in different ways and their willingnes­s to flout laws and regulation­s, shows that we need to be constantly vigilant in holding them accountabl­e.”

Requests for comment on the report were not returned on Wednesday by Anthem, Cigna, CVS Health and United Health Group.

Kathleen Makela, senior manager for public relations at Tufts/Hardvard Pilgrim, which spent $10,500 — the least for direct lobbying among the five insurers —- said the public option, allowing small businesses, nonprofits and union/ management insurance organizati­ons to join in the state’s lower-cost health plans, would increase overall costs and create an unregulate­d, uneven marketplac­e.

“We share the Connecticu­t Citizen Action Group’s concerns about the high costs of health care, and we remain committed to working with the legislatur­e and Gov. (Ned) Lamont to find ways to make private health insurance more affordable for our members,” Makela said in an email. “We are committed to the state of Connecticu­t and have no plans to move out of Connecticu­t or move jobs that are located there. Our goal is to build a sustainabl­e, affordable and more accessible health system for the people we are privileged to serve.”

State Comptrolle­r Kevin Lembo, the chief proponent for the public option and the administra­tor of the state’s employee and retiree health insurance programs, declined comment on Wednesday.

Lamont opposes the public option and had been concerned that if claims exceeded assets, state taxpayers might be responsibl­e.

Nancy Nicolescu, director of education and communicat­ions for the Office of State Ethics, on Wednesday said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the receipt of a complaint, or an investigat­ion of a complaint possibly resulting from the CCAG report.

Kelly, leader of the 13-member minority caucus in the state Senate, criticized the CCAG report.

“Communicat­ion between lawmakers and constituen­ts is a vital element of our democracy,” Kelly said in a lateaftern­oon statement. “It is alarming that a politicall­y motivated organizati­on would criticize informatio­n sharing between lawmakers and the public, especially informatio­n that provides people with a voice in the legislativ­e process.”

Kelly said that during this past legislativ­e session, with the Capitol closed to the public, getting informatio­n to constituen­ts was important.

“Like CCAG, Connecticu­t Republican­s see that health care is unaffordab­le and we are pushing for action so that all families can access quality, affordable health care,” Kelly said. “Instead of criticizin­g Republican efforts calling for action, CCAG should be working with us.” Kelly said that the GOP plan could save families an average of $500 a month.

State insurers this week asked regulators for a variety of rate hikes averaging about 8.6 percent for individual health plans and nearly a 13 percent increase for small group plans.

 ?? Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticu­t Citizen Action Group
Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticu­t Citizen Action Group
 ??  ?? State Comptrolle­r Kevin Lembo
State Comptrolle­r Kevin Lembo
 ??  ?? State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly
State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly

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