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July 2009 St@teside

Connecticut Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto, Paves the Way for Universal Health Coverage in the State

On July 21, Connecticut’s Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Governor M. Jodi Rell’s veto of a bill—House Bill 6600 (the SustiNet plan)—to establish universal health coverage in the state.  Now that this bill has become law, it will allow a nine-member board to give legislative recommendations for the SustiNet Plan—designed to achieve universal health coverage in Connecticut.  Recommendations for implementation are due by January 2011 and the system would take effect in 2012.[1]

Key features of the SustiNet plan include:

  • Guaranteed health coverage paid on an income-based sliding scale, regardless of pre-existing conditions, job changes or self-employment;
  • A medical home for everyone in order to enhance care coordination, chronic care; management, prevention and screenings, and culturally appropriate care;
  • Implementation of electronic medical records;
  • Incentives that encourage high-quality, evidence-based medicine;
  • Increased provider reimbursement rates for Medicaid and greater investment in health workforce development; and
  • Improved public health interventions, with a focus on fighting obesity and tobacco use.[2]

Rell vetoed the SustiNet plan on July 8, citing the measure as too costly in light of the state’s bleak fiscal situation.  Connecticut faces a projected $8.85 billion deficit over the next two fiscal years and the SustiNet plan would cost an estimated $1 billion per year.  While Rell noted that the Democrats have not come up with a way to pay for the plan, the Democrats responded by noting that Rell had vetoed a budget passed in late June that would have paid for it.  Also, as Senator Jonathan Harris explained, the bill will not be enacted immediately and will not cost the state money for the next two years.  Both Rell and Republican legislators cited the possibility of imminent reform on the federal level as a reason to hold off on passing any sort of major reform in Connecticut. In fact, on the same day that Rell vetoed the health care bills, she also issued an executive order to create a 15 member advisory board that would create policies to respond to President Obama’s expected reforms.  Nonetheless, the majority of Democrats disagreed with this view and supported the adoption of a state policy to offer health coverage to everybody.[3]

Another health care bill up for veto override—House Bill 6582 (the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership plan)—failed by one vote in the state Senate as one senator was absent for the vote.  The Partnership plan would have created a timetable for opening up the state employee health plan to municipalities, small businesses, and nonprofit agencies and would have converted the plan from fully insured to self insured, thereby eliminating millions of dollars in overhead costs.[4]

Prior to Rell’s July 8 vetoes, the two health care bills, cited as priority among legislative leadership, had been broadly supported in both chambers of the legislature and passed with margins wide enough to expect that the legislature should have been able to override the vetoes if support for the bills had been maintained.[5]


[1] Keating, Christopher.  Historic Day for Legislature as Seven Vetoes Are Overridden, The Hartford Courant, July 21, 2009.
[2] Health Care We Can Count On, A Proposal for Health Care Reform by Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, 2009.
[3] Keating, Christopher.  Historic Day for Legislature as Seven Vetoes Are Overridden, The Hartford Courant, July 21, 2009; Keating, Christopher and Arielle Levin Becker.  Rell Vetoes Health Reform Bills, Citing Expense in Face of State Deficit, July 9, 2009.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.