Our healthcare system in this country is complicated.  I was a health care industry analyst for many years, and have done the work to understand how insurance companies, hospitals, labs and pharmaceutical companies function.  I know the pressures they face from investors, and I’ve seen how public policy impacts their decisions.  My experience matters when it comes to public healthcare policy in Connecticut.

I support universal healthcare coverage.

The Affordable Care Act was a critical step towards filling in the many gaps in healthcare coverage for all Americans, and we need to keep moving in that direction.  Our current system links healthcare coverage benefits to specific kinds of employment, and disproportionately denies benefits to women and minorities.  In this country, you can be a single working mom, stringing together several jobs and working well over 40 hours a week, but still not have the benefit of employer subsidized health insurance.  Public policy that was designed to remove the cost burden from small businesses created distorted incentives and opportunities for employers to exploit workers through entirely legal means, often by limiting the number of hours worked so that employees fall just below the threshold of required benefit levels.  This is not working for public access to healthcare overall, and pushes the economic burden of filling the gap to taxpayers, even while corporations benefit through increased profits.  In this context, it is completely true that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing profits for companies like Walmart and Amazon, both major employers who have a large scale, part-time work force.  It’s a national problem, but with significant implications here in Connecticut, where about 60% of state residents were covered by an employer-based plan last year.  The pandemic has cost the state over 400,000 jobs, resulting in a huge wave of uninsured persons, with estimates anywhere from 130,000 to 382,000 people.  Connecticut responded by opening enrollment for their Affordable Care Act exchange, Access Health, which provides a heavily subsidized option, and thousands of CT residents took advantage of that and were able to keep their families protected. 

Here in Connecticut, I support a public option. 

This would expand government-subsidized health insurance to businesses with 50 or fewer employees, nonprofits of any size and labor unions to join the Connecticut state-operated Connecticut Partnership plan, which is already available to municipalities.  The currently proposed bill also creates a third provider option for individuals on Access Health CT, joining two other carriers who offer individual plans on the exchange.  Governor Lamont has said he opposes a public option, arguing it would mean the insurance companies aren’t doing their job.  In my opinion, this view entirely misses the point about what the job of health insurers is – which is to earn profits for their shareholders.  I don’t fault them for that, but I believe the state has plenty of negotiating power to result in options that will work for both sides.

Medical bills should be excluded from credit scores and reporting. 

I can think of no other industry where consumers are forced to purchase an essential service with no knowledge of the cost involved.  Even those of us with good insurance have received those crazy bills where thousands of dollars in charges are adjusted to a few hundred dollars due to insurance contracted rates.  Without insurance, health care providers can chase down the full amount, and consumers who fight back can be reported to credit agencies, effectively increasing their cost of borrowing for years.  It’s price gouging in the extreme, and destroys lives.  Preventing the inclusion of medical bills from credit reporting and scores would go a long way towards protecting consumers from these practices.

Racism is a public health crisis. 

Minorities face worse health outcomes as a direct consequence of lower economic stability, access to quality food sources, access to quality education, and access to health care.  The ongoing trauma from the constant burden of racism carries a cost in both mental and physical health, which are inextricably intertwined.  The disproportionate death rate from COVID-19 has been a direct reflection of the impact of systemic racism.  Facing up to our racist past and dismantling systemic racism should be a public health priority.

Women’s healthcare choices should not be restricted by sexist government intrusion. 

Reproductive choice is a personal healthcare decision, period.  Anti-choice arguments intended to place restrictions around a woman’s ability to have full authority over her own body will always break down as sexist nonsense.  I support women’s full access to the healthcare they need, including reproductive choice, without judgement or economic barriers to access. 

We must be prepared for future pandemics.

This statement is not even particularly bipartisan; we can no longer sit unprepared for global pandemics.  It was President George W. Bush who first correctly identified this as a matter of national security and dedicated funds to help prepare us for this moment.  President Obama furthered his efforts, committing resources to pandemic planning which helped our nation to rapidly address an outbreak of SARS, aggressively implementing contact tracing and containment measures. 

Connecticut companies are well positioned to manufacture personal protection equipment (PPE) right here in our own state, and we should be encouraging that.  Front line workers should never again have to scramble for equipment that would have kept them safe while they tried to save lives.  Retail and supply chain workers should not have had to put their families as risk in order to maintain their income.  Black communities should not have seen a heavy and disproportionate burden in terms of lives lost.  Our senior citizens should not have been so vulnerable in nursing homes. 

As I sat alone in the pre-op area waiting for my recent surgery (my husband was not allowed to be with me due to COVID-19 restrictions) I couldn’t help but think about the hundreds of thousands of people who have died alone, separated from their loved ones in their final hours, and the families who were left to grieve in isolation.  The cost of not being prepared for this pandemic has been extreme both in human and economic terms.  We cannot allow ourselves to be caught off guard again.