Connecticut Health Plan Not Ready to Expand

Connecticut’s new Charter Oak Health Plan, a taxpayer-subsidized program designed to help uninsured adults acquire coverage, is under fire from critics after the state expanded the program before reaching agreements with enough participating hospitals and physicians to serve enrollees.

Healthcare for Uninsured Kids and Youth (HUSKY), the state’s insurance program for the children of low-income families, was subsumed into the much smaller Charter Oak program in the first week of September. Poor families could face serious disruptions in care if the program fails to ally with enough providers.

The decision raised eyebrows across the state, in part because two of the managed care providers that signed on to the program lacked any presence at all in the state before the program’s launch and “doctors and hospitals have been slow to sign on,” according to the Hartford Courant.

Expanding the Program

Gov. Jodi Rell (R) continued to defend the Charter Oak Health Plan, which was expanded in late August to include 13 community health centers in cities such as Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport—a network of more than 100 health care providers reportedly capable of treating up to 250,000 people.

According to recent estimates, only 19,000 residents are expected to join Charter Oak in its first months, but HUSKY currently has more 330,000 children enrolled.

“The Charter Oak network continues to expand each week as we knew it would,” said Rell in a September 2 press release. “The addition of these centers means Charter Oak patients will have access to affordable health care in every corner of the state. I am gratified the centers have renewed their more-than-40-year commitment to provide affordable and accessible health care to all residents of Connecticut.”

‘Patchwork Government Programs’

“More patchwork government programs, like Charter Oak, are good-faith efforts to solve the problem of uninsured Americans. However, taxpayers rightly rebel at the high costs, so they have lots of trouble attracting providers,” said the Pacific Research Institute’s director of health care studies, John R. Graham.

“Government programs, even if delivered by private managed care outfits, are less likely to provide the quality of care Americans expect,” Graham continued. “Furthermore, they do not address the issue of ‘fragmented’ health care, whereby people cycle in and out of insurance based on income or job status.”

Widespread Opposition

State Sen. Jonathan Harris (D) opposed Rell’s decision to include HUSKY in the newly expanded Charter Oak program, saying, “Let’s figure out a way to make Charter Oak work, but let’s not make HUSKY kids hostage in the process.”

The state’s social services commissioner, Michael Starkowski, was also against the expansion, saying in a publicized email to Rell’s chief of staff, “All the pieces have to be in place. I don’t want to open a program that embarrasses the governor, doesn’t meet her commitments, has fatal flaws at the start, or gets shut down due to inadequacies.”

Ready, Fire, Aim

Graham said pushing ahead with government programs is the wrong approach.

“A better path for Connecticut would be to deregulate private health insurance, making premiums more affordable,” Graham said.

“With respect to regulating private health insurance, Connecticut ranks a lowly 39th out of 50 in [the Pacific Research Institute’s] U.S. Index of Health Ownership,” Graham continued, “indicating that there is lots of room to increase residents’ choices of affordable, private, health insurance, through deregulation.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.

For more information …

“2008 U.S. Index of Health Ownership,” Pacific Research Institute

“Is Health Plan Ready?” The Hartford Courant, September 2, 2008

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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