3 Health Care Bills Pass After Years in the Making

By Lynne Ide

c436086_mMuch has been reported about the state legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 811, the landmark bipartisan health reform bill, as well as the impact of cuts to Medicaid (HUSKY) programs in the state budget.

But there are more health reform-related bills that passed this session.  There are three in particular that passed without much fanfare, and all three concepts have been in the works for years.

Senate Bill 913 opens up the state employee health insurance pool for qualified non-state public employee groups (such as municipal, public library, quasi-public agency or board of education employees) to voluntarily opt to purchase health coverage via the state employee pool.

This supersedes a law passed several years ago which allowed non-state public  employees to join a separate insurance pool via the state’s “partnership plan.”  SB 913 opens up a new, high-quality health coverage option to non-state public employees which could save municipal taxpayers significant money.

Senate Bill 856 requires the state’s acute care hospitals provide interpreter services to patients whose primary language is spoken by at least 5 percent of the population residing in the hospital’s geographic service area.

The hospitals must maintain a list of qualified interpreters and establish liaisons to non-English speaking communities in their service areas.  SB 856 improves on a current law that only requires hospitals to provide for such services to the “extent possible.”  SB 856 could improve care, save lives and decrease costs of care due to communication barriers.

Senate Bill 855 requires hospitals to make public information available through annual reports to the Department of Public Health on prospective nurse staffing ratios, including ratios of patients to certain nursing staff and differences between prospective staffing levels and actual levels.  It also requires reporting on workplace violence initiatives.  SB 855 provides consumers and health care advocates an important window into hospital staffing – and potentially quality of care  when combined with other quality rating tools.

It’s not newsworthy that some legislative ideas take years to become law.  When I first started my work as an organizer and lobbyist, I was reminded that the state’s bottle deposit bill took nine years to pass.  That policy seemed like a no brainer to me back in the early 80s when Connecticut was running out of landfill options.

So why nine years?

One might ask the same question about these three health care bills.  The simple answer is that someone always has a vested interest.

Every once in a while patients’ well-being and consumer pocketbooks prevail.  Here’s to three more steps in the right direction.

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