As reported by the Connecticut Post, November 14, 2006.

Health to Top State Legislative Agenda

By Ken Dixon

House and Senate majority leaders Monday joined officials at the University of Connecticut Health Center and other professionals to support a multipart plan to expand prevention programs and save taxpayer money.

Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said they would back efforts to provide financial incentives to employers and businesses who adopt projects that improve health care and manage costs.

Backed by House Majority Leader Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, the leaders said it is too soon to predict what legislation would look like, but promised an effort would be made to cover some or all of the nearly 400,000 Connecticut residents, including about 77,000 children, without health coverage.

The potential for savings would come from within the estimated $500 million the state spends annually on subsidizing hospital care and paying for emergency room treatment for uninsured people.

During a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, Dr. Eileen Storey, co-director of the UConn Center for Public Health and Health Policy, said recommendations have been developed over the past several months.

"We need to focus on preventing chronic illness because if we don't, we are just allowing ourselves to become sicker and sicker as a population, and as we age, this issue is going to get more difficult to solve," Storey said. "And if the only thing we focus on is taking care of illness once it's established in us, then we're going to lose this battle."

Storey said communities, schools and workplaces are where prevention programs should originate, as well as at home. Consumers should eat right, exercise more, avoid bad habits and have regular medical checkups.

A member of a coalition called Be Healthy Connecticut, including health associations such as the American Diabetes Association of Fairfield County, UConn and state businesses, Storey said they are trying to develop public policy innovations, from land-use to new smoking cessation programs.

Proposals include small grants to public schools for after-school programs and the possibility of tax incentives for employers who start up workplace prevention programs.

"Health care access and affordability, there's no doubt, will be the front and center in 2007," Amann said. "I think most of us know by now that our health care system is not reaching those who need it the most, and when a family is one serious injury or illness away from bankruptcy, we really believe some action has to be required."

Amann called prevention the cornerstone of any successful health care reform proposals that might emerge from the General Assembly. "I think we should just think about the potential outcomes in the workplace: healthier, happier and more productive employees; for the employer, fewer health care claims for conditions that could have been prevented, and this can stem rising premiums," he said. "We have 400,000 men, women and children who have no health insurance at all," Williams said, calling the emergency room care alternative that many end up seeking "the worst kind that you can possibly imagine.

"This is a terrible option for them in terms of their own health because they're treated only when their condition is chronic," Williams said. "It's a terrible condition for the rest of us because the costs are greatest when folks are treated at that emergency room level." Williams called the coalition's proposals a good fit in whatever the Legislature is going to do in the next session, which begins Jan. 3.