Connecticut Democrats reveal bill to establish individual mandate for health insurance

Connecticut Democrats in the General Assembly have introduced progressive legislation that would create a state individual mandate, preserving the healthcare exchanges created under Obamacare.
Photo: Rolf Schulten/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Democrats in Connecticut's General Assembly introduced legislation today to create an individual mandate requiring residents to be covered by health insurance or face a tax penalty.

In December, Congressional Republicans repealed the federal individual mandate as part of the GOP’s tax reform legislation signed by President Donald Trump. Without action, Americans will no longer be required to sign up for health insurance as of next year. That could destabilize state healthcare exchanges like Connecticut’s that were created under the Affordable Care Act, and lead to rising premiums for residents who still want to participate in the marketplace.

The bill, H.B.5039, follows the lead of neighboring Massachusetts and establishes a state individual mandate. It was introduced by Democratic Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, House Majority Leader Rep. Matthew Ritter, President Pro Tempore Sen. Martin Looney, and Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff.

Yesterday, Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy also called for a state individual mandate at his final State of the State address.

“Let’s make it clear that in Connecticut health care is a fundamental right,” Malloy told legislators.

The bill is just one of more than 50 pieces of legislation that Democrats and Republicans have introduced in the General Assembly since the 2018 legislative session convened yesterday. According to the state Constitution, this session and all other sessions in even-numbered years run until May, and are only supposed to focus on adjusting the state’s biennial budget and not on other matters. However, legislators from both parties are stretching the scope of the session as much as they can by referring numerous bills to committee, taking advantage of a constitutional provision that allows for bills of “emergency nature” or those “raised by committee.”

Among the bills proposed in the Senate since the state’s legislative session began Wednesday afternoon is a bill concerning equal and fair pay. The bill, S.B.15,  would make it illegal for employers to force prospective employees to disclose wage and salary history. It would also make it illegal for employers to prohibit their employees from discussing their wages voluntarily with other employees.

Twelve Senate Democrats are sponsoring a bill, S.B.01, which would create an earned family and medical leave program. That bill was alluded to in a document released by Senate and House Democrats earlier this week on their shared agenda for the 2018 legislative session.

“Working families should not have to face the prospect of economic ruin when presented with serious family needs such as caring for a newborn, a spouse, or their parents,” reads “The Democratic Values Agenda” released on Tuesday.

Details on how the program would actually work are unavailable at this time. The text of that bill’s draft is currently just a single sentence, meaning details will probably have to wait until a proper version is written when it is taken up by the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

A bill intended to increase the state’s reliance on clean energy, S.B.09, sets targets for the state’s renewable energy output and reliance. Currently, it sets a goal for at least 44 percent of the state’s energy consumption to be based on renewables by 2030. That’s short of the goal suggested Gov. Malloy yesterday when he called for 75 percent of the state’s energy to be clean energy by 2030. The bill could, however, be altered to fall in line with Malloy’s suggestion as it passes through the Energy and Technology Committee.

Other bills introduced so far include bills that would preserve net neutrality in Connecticut, require employers to conduct anti-harassment training, and create an electronic tolling system on state highways.

A bill that would raise the minimum wage is also expected to be introduced, according to House and Senate Democrats.

Some of the other expected bills laid out by state Democratic leadership this week seem designed to rally the party’s base in a midterm election year more than they seem designed to actually pass or effect change.

One expected bill would make Connecticut part of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).

The NPVIC is an agreement between participating states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. So far 10 states have entered into the compact, which is non-binding until participating states represent at least 270 electoral votes. Interest in the NPVIC increased following the 2016 election, when Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college to Republican Donald Trump despite receiving about three million votes more than Trump.

Such a bill would be difficult to pass in the current General Assembly, where Democrats and Republicans are tied for control of the Senate.

The divided Senate also spells almost certain doom for an anticipated bill that would make community college tuition-free in Connecticut. It seems unlikely Republicans and Democrats would be able to come together to find a way to fund an overhaul of the community college system while also trying to close the state’s $200 million budget deficit.

In fact, if last year’s 17-week budget impasse between the two parties is a sign of things to come in 2018, Connecticut residents will be lucky if their representatives can manage to pass any meaningful legislation before the legislative session ends and the summer primary season begins.