HARTFORD — A compromise bill on the controversial SustiNet state-run health plan passed the House May 27, and it drew praise from both supporters and opponents of the original proposal — albeit for different reasons.

SustiNet supporters say the bill represents concrete steps toward their ultimate goal: offering a state-run insurance plan to the public.

Opponents of the original proposal, meanwhile, said the compromise rightly focuses the state on implementing federal health reform, not the so-called public option that SustiNet backers sought.

The bill, which passed 88-48 and was to go to the Senate after this edition of BNH went to press, calls for allowing municipalities to buy insurance through the state beginning in 2012. Nonprofits that contract with the state would be allowed to buy in in 2013. It would not offer state-run insurance to small businesses or the public, as the original SustiNet proposal called for.

But the bill creates an advisory board, called the SustiNet Health Care Cabinet, that would make health care policy recommendations and develop a business plan that evaluates "private or public mechanisms that will provide adequate health insurance products" — including alternatives to private insurance. The cabinet would make implementation recommendations for the governor's consideration.

The bill also establishes an Office of Health Reform and Innovation within the lieutenant governor's office to coordinate state and federal reform efforts. It would be headed by Jeannette DeJesús, the governor's special adviser for health care reform and a deputy commissioner of public health.

Although the bill does not commit the state to a public option, Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, called it "a major piece of health care legislation."

"This bill has concrete steps toward charting a clear course for a home-grown, affordable nonprofit health care option for individuals and small businesses," Figueroa said in a statement following the vote.

In recent weeks, after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed concerns about SustiNet and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to a deal with the administration that did not include the public option, some said SustiNet was dead. Figueroa said he's been telling people that the bill that passed May 27 the product of an agreement between SustiNet supporters and the Malloy administration — represents a "SustiNet rebirth."

The bill requires the state comptroller to establish a "partnership plan" that would offer health insurance to municipalities and other non-state public employers, and to nonprofits that contract with the state. Each group could also cover their retirees through the plan. The partnership plan's risk pool could be joined with the state employee and retiree health insurance pool, although the comptroller could also run it without doing so.

The SustiNet cabinet would be charged with advising the governor and Office of Health Reform and Innovation and would address multiple health policy issues, including the feasibility of offering a state-run health plan for low-income adults who don't qualify for Medicaid under federal reform, identifying opportunities, issues and gaps created by federal health reform, examining ways to ensure an adequate health care workforce and coordinating health care delivery system reforms with the Office of Health Reform and Innovation.

SustiNet was originally proposed as a plan for universal health care in 2009, before Congress began work on federal health reform. After the federal reform law, SustiNet supporters pitched their plan as a way to go beyond the federal plan by creating a public option and controlling health care costs.

The original bill proposed this session called for joining the health plans the state already pays for, including Medicaid and the state employee and retiree health plan, under a quasi-public authority. The authority would then offer health insurance to municipalities, small businesses, nonprofits and, ultimately, the public.


This article originally appeared in CTMirror.com.