May 29, 2024

Tackling public policy problems in earnest takes patience. In the case of tackling sky rocketing health insurance costs in Connecticut it takes extreme patience, laser-like focus, resolute dedication, and loving care, much like what is required of a surgeon doing brain surgery on a baby in utero.

We expect surgeons to produce miracles in the operating room. Surgeons often do. Serious politicians can too.

The high cost of living in Connecticut is a persistent problem. This year, our state dropped to No. 39 in CNBC’s annual Top States for Business rankings, earning two “F” letter grades for our state economy and cost of living, and a “D” letter grade for cost of doing business.

Health insurance companies’ recent request for an average rate increase of 20.4 percent for individual health plans next year and an average increase of 14.8 percent for small group plans sold on and off Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act exchange delivered a gut punch to residents, painfully reminding us that our health care costs, too, are among the highest in the country.

Twelve years since it became law, the continued rate hikes are also a stunning rebuke of the promise of the Affordable Care Act itself.

Real people in Connecticut — self-employed contractors with families, small business owners trying to do the best for their fewer than 50 workers, and many individuals — cannot sleep at night right now because they are sick to their stomach about how to afford health insurance .

What can a serious politician do? Immediately, stop causing the harm.

Politicians need a Hippocratic Oath.

With 68 mandated benefits and services on health plans, Connecticut is among the highest in the country in demands on insurers who offer health plans on and off the state exchange for individuals and small groups that make up about 30 percent of the health insurance market in Connecticut . This is the only portion of the market that state politicians can control.

The remaining 70 percent of the market are individuals and families who get their health insurance from the big corporations they work for like Sikorsky or Pratt & Whitney; those health plans are regulated by federal laws and cannot be impacted by state mandates.

Every one of those mandates have contributed to raising health insurance premiums for the contractor, the small business owner, and the individual. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association estimates that through plan year 2019, each enrollee pays an additional $2,085.48 in premium costs because of these 68 benefit mandates.

Another major driver of costs are the assessments levied on insurance companies. Among the assessments is the charge for operating the state’s health exchange itself, which cost $32 million in 2021. That $32 million charged to the insurers and passed onto the contractor, small business owner, and individual enrollees through higher premiums.

What’s more, these mandates pass the legislature with no cost-benefit analysis. For example, in 2022, SB358 (a bill to expand existing breast cancer screening) and HB5386 (a bill that set the price of epi-pens at $25) passed with no report from the Health Benefit Review Program — a report that would have answered basic questions about which portion of the population would utilize the benefits, to what extent those benefits were already available, and what the cost of those mandates would be to individuals, insurers, and employers.

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