California's famous but ultimately failed quest to require employers to provide health insurance coverage for their workers has spread to Connecticut, where a community coalition is backing a bill that mimics the Golden State's model.
Proponents say that the bill, which will get a public hearing in front of the Legislature's labor committee on March 17, is a work in progress. Similar to the short-lived California law, the bill would require companies with more than 100 employees to provide affordable health coverage to workers or pay into a state-run health insurance program (Nov. 8, 2004, p. 8).
Proponents of the Employee Health Security Act estimate about 66,000 people would get health coverage if the bill becomes law.
"It's going to take time to figure out all the details that are going to work in this state," said Beverley Brakeman, director of Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a coalition of labor and community activists. "It's a starting point for the conversation."
The proposal gained traction last week with the release of an analysis showing how many of the state's workers are covered by the state's Health Insurance for Uninsured Kids and Youth program.
The analysis, which drew its inspiration from a similar analysis once done in California, determined that the failure of five of the state's largest companies to offer health benefits to workers costs the state more than $20 million annually, Brakeman said.
Connecticut typically ranks among the top 10 states with the highest rates of insurance coverage, according to a snapshot by the state's Office of Health Care Access that was released in January.
A household survey conducted in 2004 in conjunction with the snapshot estimated that 5.8% of the state's population-196,200 of its more than 3 million residents-are uninsured.
The state's hospitals in principle support any initiative "that looks to increase healthcare coverage and access," although the details of the bill are still blurry, said Ken Roberts, a spokesman for the Connecticut Hospital Association. "It's kind of a moving target right now," he said.
Like the California business community, which overturned the state law through a ballot referendum last November, Connecticut's businesses think a health insurance coverage requirement is a bad idea.
"If employers out there are not offering health insurance coverage, what is the reason? The reason is it's expensive," said Eric George, associate counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "This kind of tax doesn't do anything to bring down the cost of healthcare. It's an excise tax. It's a penalty."
Brakeman said the group's ultimate goal is to provide universal healthcare by 2007. "There's a ton of different proposals everywhere you look. It's sort of the topic of the day," she said.