As the 2020 Connecticut General Assembly legislative session approaches, lawmakers are focusing on plans to reform Connecticut’s healthcare system.

In the 2019 legislative session, Sen. Matthew Lesser and Rep. Sean Scanlon introduced a proposal that looked to expand Connecticut’s healthcare programs. Their plan included an advisory council that would help the state develop a public option program — a government-issued plan that would serve as an alternative to private insurance — as well as separate coverage options for small businesses and nonprofits, and a program called “ConnectHealth,” which would have offered low-cost healthcare coverage to citizens without employer-sponsored insurance.

“I think the overall unaffordability of healthcare is a major problem — our neighbors shouldn’t have to make health decisions based on what they can and cannot afford,” Rep. Quentin Phipps said in an interview with the News. “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege … so anything we can do to make healthcare more accessible and people understanding navigating their insurance is something I care deeply about.”

This past May, just two weeks before the previous legislative session concluded, Lesser and Scanlon introduced an updated version of the bill. The new proposal sought to establish a public option program called “Connecticut Option,” a state-sponsored health insurance plan for individuals and small businesses without employer subsidized coverage. The plan would have been financed by an individual mandate and a tax on opioid manufacturing.

But in an interview with the Hartford Courant just six days after the announcement of the “Connecticut Option” plan, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo revealed that Cigna, a Bloomfield-based health insurance company, threatened to leave the state if the public option plan passed. In response, legislators worked to amend the bill in an effort to discourage Cigna and other health insurers from leaving the state.

Ultimately, the final draft of the legislation did not include a public option. The revised legislation also would have greenlighted Connecticut to ask the federal government to allow the importation of Canadian prescription drugs and set yearly benchmarks to control the cost of healthcare. Some opponents of the drug importation measure argue that there are no mechanisms to ensure that Canadian drugs are safe and lower profit margins for drug companies will harm research and development.

In early June, the final version of the bill overwhelming passed the General Assembly House by a vote of 112–28 and received both Democratic and Republican support. The amended bill never received a vote in the Senate. Despite failing to pass a public option, lawmakers have made reforming Connecticut’s healthcare system a top priority in the upcoming legislative session. However, it is unclear what specific measures the Democratic-controlled General Assembly will take up.

Only a day after the end of the last legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont said that he and the General Assembly would work together to revisit the potential for a public option program.

The 2020 Connecticut General Assembly will reconvene on Feb. 5 and adjourn on May 6.