As reported by the New Haven Register, January 20, 2011.

Health Care Advocates Pack State Hearing on SustiNet

By Mary E. O’Leary

HARTFORD — Advocates for health care reform filled a hearing room to capacity Wednesday as they began the long process of shepherding the SustiNet plan through the legislature.

Ironically, the kickoff occurred on the same day the U.S. House was poised to vote to repeal federal health care reform, which provides much of the funding that will underwrite SustiNet and save the state as much as $531 million in costs by 2019, according to SustiNet consultants.

“Let’s be clear, they will not repeal the health care act,” said state House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, to cheers from the crowd.

Any move by the U.S. House is expected to be blocked by the U.S. Senate and ultimately by President Barack Obama.

“We don’t need health insurance anymore, we need to move towards health assurance — health care that will be there for us, and the SustiNet plan will do that,” Donovan said.

SustiNet begins by combining the buying power of the state’s employees and retirees, along with Medicaid and HUSKY beneficiaries and looking at better ways of delivering services and paying providers for outcomes, rather than for the number of procedures. It also would use patient-centered medical homes and electronic health records for efficiency and to cut costs.

The state spends $7 billion on health care and needs to get a handle on this huge expense at the same time lawmakers will face a $3.7 billion over all deficit by July 1.

A recent Gallup Poll found that the percentage of uninsured in America has grown to 16.4 percent of the population up from 14.8 percent in 2008, while those covered by their employer, dropped from 49.2 percent from 45.8 percent.

SustiNet would be opened up to cities and towns first, followed by nonprofits and small businesses and then to others who want it by 2014. It looks to maximize federal funding by expanding HUSKY to cover individuals who make up to 200 percent of the poverty level, which would be some 41,000 people.

Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who did the cost modeling for SustiNet, said Connecticut will save $226 million to $277 million a year, starting in 2014, which is the result of new federal money.

If it manages to slow the growing cost of health care by 1 percent, the state is projected to save $355 million in 2014, expanding to $531 million by 2019.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, said the plan will have to go before multiple legislative committees, with the actual bill some weeks away and a financial analysis not yet available on upfront costs.

Dr. Bruce Gould, who runs a clinic in the north end of Hartford, which serves mainly uninsured and underinsured individuals, called SustiNet “a game-changer.”

He said in his 23 years in Connecticut he has found it harder and harder to get his patients care that they needed. “Frankly, medicine is a business ...and we’ve all become very good at trying to block people from accessing that care,” Gould said. “That day hopefully is over.”

SustiNet has been under development for the past 15 months, but the ground work was laid going back to 2007. Over the last year, more than 200 volunteers were involved in putting the SustiNet document together, which went to the legislature this month.