Think Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol;
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner…You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail…This must be distinctly understood…”
When Governor Malloy’s new Health Care Cabinet met earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who had helped to lead the SustiNet effort and was once one of its greatest champions, took great pains to ensure that no one – no one – thought that SustiNet was anything but dead.
Wyman proclaimed that “SustiNets not around anymore, there is no SustiNet.”
In fact, Wyman and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who served as Connecticut’s Health Care Advocate at the time, were the co-chairs of the SustiNet Health Partnership Board of Directors that created SustiNet.
Their board worked for more than a year and a half developing what was recognized as a profound step forward in the battle to provide greater access to affordable, high quality health care in Connecticut.
When the SustiNet Plan was finalized last December, Lembo said that “this report provides the General Assembly with a roadmap for reform – and propels Connecticut to the forefront in addressing a nationwide health care and financial crisis.”
This extraordinary victory did not come easily.
The legislation creating the SustiNet Board of Directors and laying out the process for developing Connecticut’s healthcare reform plan was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2009.
The Democratic Legislature took the unprecedented action of overriding that veto and setting in to motion the steps that would eventual lead to the SustiNet plan.
Last December, on the day the SustiNet Board was adopting its final report, a rally was held in Hartford. Dan Malloy, then the Governor-Elect, spoke at the rally.
As he did during his campaign for Governor he credited his mother for his lasting commitment to universal health care. Speaking to the crowd, Malloy said that “it was through her eyes and her advocacy that I think much of my commitment to making sure that all of our neighbors have access to quality health care really arouse.”
Surrounded by health care reform proponents and religious leaders, Malloy pointed out that SustiNet represented Connecticut’s move toward universal health care.
The Governor to be added “I’m not sure we’re at the top of the mountain, where we see the promise land but we know the promise land exists or at least a substantial portion of that which is necessary to provide the promise land is just around the corner,”
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, another leading voice in the battle for SustiNet also spoke at the rally calling it “an impressive sight” and pointing out how much had changed over the last few years.
Pointing to the next governor, the next lieutenant governor and all the clergy and said “I remember a couple years ago when the clergy wanted to meet with the governor and the governor then refused,”
Now, 10 months later, SustiNet is dead…. Dead as a doornail.
At this week’s Health Care Cabinet Meeting, Dan Malloy’s special advisor on health reform, Jeannette DeJesús worked to put all that in the past saying “There’s a lot of new things happening that we need to consider, there are lots of new opportunities, and there are lots of people who want to play that have not participated in the past. Our goal is to really be inclusive at every turn.”
New things, new opportunities, lots of people who want to play a role?
But despite the thousands of hours spent developing the SustiNet plan, there was no discussion about what elements of the old plan were so terrible that the SustiNet plan needed to be trashed.
Was it the effort to leverage Connecticut’s tremendous buying power to lower healthcare premiums for people whose healthcare is funded by taxpayers?
Was it the effort to create a system in which municipalities, non-profit organizations and small businesses could buy healthcare at a lower cost?
Was it the focus on lowering costs for everyone by making greater use of electronic medical records, preventative treatment initiatives or promoting cutting edge care in patient homes?
Or was it the creation of a “public option”, which was scheduled to begin in 2014 and would have provided health care insurance for the tens of thousands of Connecticut’s uninsured residents- an option that would have be financed by premium payments and federal tax credits and would not have required significant state subsidies.
Everyone in the room knew, but few would say, that part of the problem was that the SustiNet plan had gotten caught up in the recent Malloy/SEBAC agreement when, as a result of poor communication by both the state unions and the Malloy Administration, opponents of the concession deal interpreted the proposed health care changes as part of a secret plan to use SustiNet to undermine the state employee’s health care plan.
But of course, that problem could have easily been resolved.
What could not be easily resolved was the strong opposition from Connecticut’s health care industry.
And since that opposition was very real and politically significant, the Governor’s new Health Care Cabinet did what it had to do and simply skipped over the true reason SustiNet was killed.
In the end the real problem was that here, in what was once the “Insurance Capital of the World”, if the SustiNet System worked as it was designed to do then health care premiums would drop and if health care premiums dropped, insurance company profits might drop as well.
In a year when Dan Malloy gave Cigna Insurance company almost $50 million in public funds to “move” its corporate headquarters back to Connecticut and create at least 250 jobs, whacking the insurance industry’s bottom line was hardly the message some wanted to send.
And equally important was the fact that SustiNet would allow a variety of entities to buy their health insurance through one of the state’s pools or plans.
Many chambers of commerce, especially the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, make their money by selling insurance to their members.
Giving small businesses another option for getting insurance, even if it mean cheaper insurance for businesses and their employees would have had a devastating impact on the ability of business groups to fund their activities.
So yes, SustiNet is Dead.
It was killed by some of the very people who helped create it in the first place.
Go to CTNewsJunkie’s archives for a great set of stories describing the rise and fall of SustiNet: ttp://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/taglist/SustiNet