News Clips Archive

As exchange board begins work, advocates still seeking change

November 3rd

Arielle Levin Becker
November 3, 2011

The board developing the state’s health insurance exchange–a key piece of federal health reform–is already at work. But consumer advocates unhappy with the composition of the board are still trying to change its make-up, and Democratic lawmakers are open to the idea.

Some advocates have been urging lawmakers to amend law that governs the exchange to add board members who represent consumers. Others want three board members who have held leadership positions at insurance companies to be replaced, saying their appointments violate the state law that established the exchange, which prohibits board members from being affiliated with insurers or other health care industry groups.

“The biggest danger is that the board is set up to protect insurance companies instead of consumers, or to enrich insurance companies instead of protecting consumers,” said Tom Swan, executive director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group. He and other critics of the board are exploring administrative and legal options if the governor and legislators don’t replace the board members with insurance backgrounds.

But some involved in implementing health reform say it’s important to have people who understand insurance involved in developing the exchange, which will serve as a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy health care coverage beginning in 2014.

Lawmakers did not address the board’s composition during a special legislative session last week, but Democratic legislative leaders and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the exchange board, have expressed openness to considering changes during next year’s regular session. None said they had concerns about the board.

The board has eight members appointed by the governor or legislative leaders, and six members representing state agencies or government. The three members that have drawn the most scrutiny are Mickey Herbert, who retired last year as CEO of the insurer ConnectiCare;  Robert Scalettar, a physician who has held top medical positions at Aetna Better Health, AmeriChoice by UnitedHealthcare, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield; and Mary Fox, a former senior vice president for Aetna Product Group.

The other appointees include Wyman, small business founder Michael Devine, health economist Grant Ritter, former Senate Democrats staffer Cecilia Woods, and Robert Tessier, who leads a coalition of health plans for unionized workers.

Concerns from the left

Many states have been slow to embrace or even outright challenged federal health reform. In Connecticut, though, the most visible fight has taken place on the other side, with critics worried that the state won’t go far enough. Many of those seeking to change the exchange board’s composition were involved in the push for SustiNet, a proposed state-run insurance plan that failed to become law after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed reservations. Malloy, a Democrat, has embraced federal health reform, but many advocates have criticized him for not supporting SustiNet and say he has been too deferential to the insurance industry.

At the most recent exchange board meeting, some critics held a silent protest, with bandages over their mouths.

The exchange board “is absolutely as far opposite as you could probably get to what the federal vision of that entity was supposed to be, which was very heavily weighed on the consumer side. And what we have is we have no consumers,” said Kevin Galvin, a small business owner who has been active in pushing for state-level health reforms and serves as chairman of Small Business for a Healthy Connecticut.

He noted that while state Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri is on the board, she is a non-voting member.

Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said she was concerned that the board members did not appear to have experience working with low-income residents.

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” she said. “I’m more scared in terms of them being able to explain to people who are going to be forced to buy [insurance] why they should buy it, and why they should trust this group of people who, frankly, I don’t trust.”

Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which led the push for SustiNet, wants the exchange board dismantled and restarted. “I think there’s a real question as to the legitimacy of this board and I would just start all over again,” he said.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the state’s previous healthcare advocate, isn’t seeking to have anyone removed from the board, but said it seems like a mistake that more consumers were not named on the board, and that it could be fixed efficiently through legislation or an executive order.

“I don’t assign bad motivation to anyone, I just think we are where we are, the question is, are we willing to fix it?” he said. “If it’s an easy thing to fix, then we should fix it and move on.”

Who is a consumer advocate?

Since the exchange was created through legislation, Wyman said she has suggested that advocates seek legislative changes if they want to expand the board by one or two people.

Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, would support making the healthcare advocate a voting member and would consider other changes, but couldn’t commit to them yet, spokesman Lawrence Cook said.

And House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, is open to discussing adding consumer representation to the board, according to spokesman Doug Whiting.

“I think he feels that the composition of the board is representative, but clearly there are a number of folks and advocates who don’t believe that,” Whiting said. “He’s willing to listen to that argument, and if the argument’s persuasive, at least to consider making changes.”

But House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, Jr., R-Norwalk, said he would be loath to change the make-up of the board, “unless they’ve got a pretty damn good reason.” Cafero said it’s one thing to ask an appointing authority to make a new selection if members are not knowledgeable about the subject or aren’t showing up to meetings.

“But to change the legislation as to who comprises the board, that’s another thing,” Cafero said. “They’d have to really demonstrate to me and others as to why that’s necessary. And if it comes down to just ’cause they’re not getting what they want to get, that’s life.”

Besides, Cafero noted, “Your definition of consumer-friendly might be different than mine.”

And Wyman, who said she thinks the board achieves the appropriate balance, challenged the idea that board members, herself included, won’t stand up for consumers.

“I really believe that most people on that board do believe they’re consumer advocates,” she said.

Moving fast

Herbert, too, took issue with the idea that he and other board members are not consumers. He noted that he has experience purchasing insurance for a small business–the Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team, which he owned and operated for eight seasons, and which has about a dozen full-time employees. He has also been involved in private and state efforts to figure out how to cover all Connecticut residents.

“It’s something that I’m very, very committed to, and I know quite a bit about,” Herbert said. “I don’t feel like I was chosen for any other reason but for the fact that I have a lot to offer through this process.”

Herbert said it would be “folly” to remove him, Fox and Scalettar from the board.

“We’re not conflicted currently, and I would argue that it’s imperative to have some folks on that board that have health insurance backgrounds and experience, because that’s what this is all about,” he said.

Fox and Scalettar did not respond to requests for comment, but others spoke on their behalf.

Cook called Scalettar, Looney’s appointee, “eminently qualified” to serve on the exchange board because of his expertise in health delivery systems.

“Among his other qualifications, he has practiced pediatrics at a community health center, he built and ran a student health center, and he was chief medical officer for Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield,” Cook said. “That is why Bob Scalettar is on the Health Insurance Exchange–because of his decades of commitment and to people who need good health care.”

Wyman, who like Fox was named to the board by Malloy, said Fox had not worked at Aetna in some time, and brings a different perspective to the board. Fox “believes that she is an advocate,” Wyman said.

Jeannette DeJesús, special advisor to the governor for health reform and vice chairwoman of the exchange board, said it’s been made clear that the administration would support action by the legislature to add board members. But she suggested that advocates might be better off focusing on other areas.

The board is moving at a fast pace to build and implement a new insurance marketplace in two years. One task, hiring a CEO to run the quasi-public agency, is moving quickly, with board members expected to select the top candidates–to be narrowed by the governor–next month.

Having one person on the board won’t be nearly as effective as making sure that a wide range of communities affected by health reform get heard in the process, DeJesús said.

Through DeJesús’ office, the state was recently accepted into a program that will give training in health equity issues to members of the exchange board and other boards involved in health reform. She said it’s important to have diverse communities represented on the board, but that to assume that the people chosen don’t have sensitivity or knowledge about those areas might not be correct.

Herbert said he’s trying to stay above the fray and largely ignore the dispute over the board composition.

“We have a lot of work to do and in a very short period of time, so it might be a little bit too strong to say we’re ignoring all the noise around us, but the reality is we’re just focusing on our job, which is trying to get this exchange up and running in really a pretty short period of time,” he said.

©Copyright 2011 The Connecticut News Project. All rights reserved.

Connecticut unions discuss savings with management

November 2nd

The Associated Press
Posted Nov 02, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday that his administration is committed to changing the relationship between managers and employees in state government and empowering workers to come up with ways to streamline and improve services.

“I did it as the mayor of Stamford, I intended to do it as governor — to have an administration that is committed to creating a model of government where the ideas of front-line workers are valued,” he said. Malloy said that will ultimately lead to ways of making state government more efficient and making state workers feel appreciated. (more…)

Malloy, union leaders launch overdue efficiency panel

November 1st

Keith M. Phaneuf
November 1, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy launched the new labor-management panel charged with finding efficiencies across state government by pledging Tuesday to cooperate with workers to help them transform state services–and the costs associated with them.

And the governor’s chief negotiator, Office of Policy and Management Deputy Secretary Mark Ojakian, also told the panel–which was supposed to identify $90 million in budget savings in the current fiscal year–to focus on reshaping government over the long haul. (more…)

Connecticut approves bipartisan jobs plan

October 31st

By John Gramlich, Stateline Staff Writer

In a special legislative session that ended last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy achieved what President Obama so far has not: winning bipartisan approval of an ambitious jobs plan.

Malloy, a Democrat, won unanimous support from his own party — and nearly unanimous support from Republicans — as the legislature agreed to borrow $626 million over two years in a sweeping effort to create private-sector jobs. The legislation, which will cost $1.1 billion after interest payments are included, drew just a single opposing vote in each legislative chamber. (more…)

Ideas Offered To Cut State’s Annual $250 Million Overtime Bill

October 30th,0,1168098.column

Jon Lender

Government Watch
October 30, 2011

The first ideas by top state officials on how to shovel out from under Connecticut’s $250 million annual overtime-pay avalanche include proposals to book overtime shifts only 24 hours in advance, instead of two weeks — and to formally evaluate government managers on how well they cut down on subordinates’ overtime pay.

A month ago Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, ordered six agencies that pay the most overtime to submit plans on how to cut 10 percent from their OT totals between now and June 30, 2012 — and thus help achieve a $25 million statewide reduction. (more…)

Red Cross Blood Collection Workers Set To Strike Thursday

October 28th,0,4632424.story

The Hartford Courant
October 28, 2011

Two hundred blood collection workers at the Connecticut Blood Services region of the American Red Cross will go on strike Thursday after more than two years without a contract, the union representing the workers said Friday.

The strike by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3145 will be open-ended, in contrast to a three-day action in June 2010, the union said. It follows a breakdown in negotiations in which the Red Cross rejected the union’s latest demands last weekend. (more…)

Union Files Complaint On Behalf of Terminated Stewards

October 27th

by Christine Stuart
Oct 27, 2011 11:30am

It lasted all of 45 seconds, but the “horseplay” that started with a headlock ended with the Judicial Branch terminating two union stewards working at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center.

Jason Pelletier and John Woolard were placed on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 26 and terminated Oct. 13 after the incident which they believe had nothing to do with their termination.

“I believe I do my job pretty well,” Pelletier said earlier this week in a phone interview. “I believe I was fired to prove a point.” (more…)

Senate gives final passage to bipartisan jobs bill

October 26th

Mark Pazniokas
and Keith M. Phaneuf
October 26, 2011

The Senate gave final passage Wednesday night to a bipartisan jobs bill crafted to provide economic incentives to manufacturers, major employers and small businesses, while scoring a political victory shared by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative Democrats and Republicans.

With only one Republican dissenting, the Senate voted 34 to 1 in favor of a bill negotiated over weeks by the Democratic governor and the legislature’s Democratic majority and the GOP minority. The House passed it hours earlier, 147 to 1. (more…)

Public-private partnerships among last-minute ’sticking points’

October 25th

Keith M. Phaneuf
October 25, 2011

A controversial proposal to employ public-private partnerships to implement certain state construction projects is one of a handful of “sticking points” delaying final, bipartisan agreement on a new package of job growth bills, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday afternoon.

But Malloy, who addressed Capitol reporters briefly following a closed-door meeting with legislative leaders, quickly added that all parties had agreed to resume talks and predicted that a legislative package with bipartisan support would be presented to the full House and Senate on Wednesday. (more…)

Barnes Adds ‘Watch List’ To Budget Projections

October 24th

by Christine Stuart
Oct 24, 2011 11:45am

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes added a new subsection titled “Watch List” in his monthly letter detailing the state’s revenue and expenditure projections.

With little change between September and October “several areas of the budget have the potential to significantly impact the estimates provided in this letter,” Barnes wrote. (more…)