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.

 WATERBURY — A Norwalk couple was awarded $58.6 million May 25, a record for a single incident of medical malpractice in Connecticut, in a case involving an obstetrician accused of waiting too long to perform a cesarean section and a boy who was permanently brain-damaged.

The jury at Superior Court in Waterbury found for Domenic and Cathy D'Attilo, whose son Daniel, now eight years old, has had severe cerebral palsy since he was born on February 2, 2003. He must be fed through a tube, uses a wheelchair, is unable to eat, talk or walk and is incontinent.

D'Attilo, her husband and son said in their lawsuit that Viscarello did not perform timely incisions to relieve the upper uterine area, delayed the cesarean section, didn't create space for an a traumatic delivery and caused a delay in the delivery that led to permanent brain damage.

The defendant's attorney, James Rosenblum of Rosenblum Newfield LLC in Stamford, said he will appeal if Judge Kevin Dubay allows the jury's decision to stand.

 BRANFORD — Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) has opened a cardiac rehab center at 84 North Main Street in Branford. YNHH Cardiac Rehabilitation Center offers individualized, medically supervised exercise and education programs and counseling for individuals who have experienced a cardiac event or need to reduce their risk of heart disease.

YNHH Cardiac Rehabilitation Center is a physician-referred program staffed by exercise physiologists and an onsite cardiologist. The center is accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. For particulars phone

203-483-3107.

 NEW HAVEN — For women undergoing cancer treatment, the appearance-related side effects can be devastating.  The American Cancer Society is working to improve the quality of life for cancer patients with a program that teaches beauty and self-image techniques to help cope with the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation.  Currently a need exists for certified cosmetologists who would be willing to give an hour or two per month to help implement the program at the Hospital of St. Raphael and Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven as well as Middlesex Hospital Cancer Center in Middletown.

“Look Good, Feel Better” is a free, community based, national program of the American Cancer Society that uses the volunteer services of licensed cosmetologists to offer services including makeup, skin care, nail care, and options related to hair loss, such as wigs, turbans and scarves.

Participants receive a free kit of cosmetics for use during and after the workshop, and the program is product-neutral.  Volunteers and program participants do not promote any product line or manufacturer. All cosmetics used in the group program have been donated. Interested volunteers must be licensed cosmetologists and attend a training workshop. To learn more phone 800-227-2345 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 NEW HAVEN — Women at high risk for breast cancer due to family or medical history are the focus of a new program at the Women’s Center for Breast Health at the Hospital of Saint Raphael. Under the initiative, community surgeons active in the care of breast disease are teaming up with Saint Raphael’s physicians to identify and screen women at high risk.

 

The High-Risk Breast Health Program offers initial counseling, diagnostic testing and education to women with the following risk factors: genetics (two or more breast cancers or male breast cancer in the family); history of ovarian cancer; past atypical biopsy; and/or dense breast tissue. For more information on the program, call 888-577-9224 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 But feds warn of prosecutions elsewhere

 

HARTFORD — Top state lawmakers in Connecticut are pushing ahead with plans to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, despite recent warnings to officials in other states of possible federal prosecution.

"States have a right to decide this for themselves," said Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's senior criminal justice adviser.

Malloy and Democratic leaders are proposing allowing physicians to write prescriptions that would permit their patients to grow marijuana indoors. The current bill does not provide for operation of marijuana dispensaries, as other states' laws do, but some backers are considering a dispensary amendment.

U.S. attorneys in several states, including Washington and Rhode Island, have warned state officials that while the Justice Department does not plan to prosecute sick people who use marijuana for medical purposes, it is prepared to prosecute those who grow or distribute the substance, regardless of state law.

The letters have led Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to pull back from plans to license marijuana dispensaries in those states.

But State Rep. Gerald M. Fox (D-146) of Stamford, the Judiciary Committee’s co-chairman, said that while he is keeping an eye on the potential legal challenges going on in other states, he does not believe that will kill the momentum of this bill.

"I don't think that will hold up the bill," said Fox. "I will certainly pay attention to the federal government when something happens."

Lawlor agrees.

"The feds haven't done anything yet. We're just trying to get a sense of what these letters mean," he said. "There are definitely mixed messages coming from Washington on this."

The U.S. Attorney General's office in October 2009 issued a memorandum announcing the Department of Justice would not pursue prosecutions against cultivators, distributors and patients as long as they adhere to state laws. But federal officials recently raided several dispensaries in Montana and Washington.

State officials say they have not received any communications on the issue from Connecticut's U.S. attorney's office. A spokesman said the office would not comment on whether it plans to pursue legal action if Connecticut lawmakers move forward with the bill.

But State Rep. John Hetherington (R-125), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the law is there for a reason and it is up to state legislators to abide by it.

"We can't just disregard and ignore the laws we don't like," he said. "I'm all for making this available to people who may healthily benefit, but not when it's illegal. Are we really going to start the practice of disobeying laws?"

Members of the Public Health Committee decided May 3 to move the proposal out of committee, but some said they are reserving judgment whether they will be able to vote for final approval with legal uncertainty hanging over it.

"There are some concerns," said State Rep. Elizabeth B. Ritter (D-38), co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee. "This is probably not the first time we've run afoul of the federal government on something."

The proposal next heads to the State Senate.