Last month, the Connecticut General Assembly was called in for Special Session in both the House of Representatives and State Senate. Both held overnight deliberations on four pieces of legislation that have since moved to Governor Lamont’s office, where they were signed into law.
The first bill brought to the floor was HB 6001, An Act Concerning Telehealth. Telehealth Services is a way to communicate with your physician by way of videoconferencing such as zoom. Back in March the governor issued an Executive Order which expanded access to telehealth services to providers and Connecticut residents due to COVID-19. Many people have turned to Telehealth visits as a safe alternative during Covid-19 as an easy approach for those less ambulatory. This legislation which I supported will ensure that residents have access to this method of healthcare delivery into March 2021.
A piece of hotly debated legislation was HB 6002, An Act Concerning Absentee Voting (and Reporting of Results at the 2020 State and Election, Expanding Election Day Registrations and Ratifying Certain Provisions of an Executive Order that Relate to the August 11, 2020, Primary). Covid-19 has created many obstacles in 2020, including the upcoming November election. Prior to the July 2020 Special Sessions, our state constitution permitted voting via absentee ballot if you would be out of town; if you were serving in the armed forces; have a physical disability; or an illness. I was able to speak on the floor about this bill and, while I voted in favor of HB 6002, I still have concerns. How can we be certain that the absentee ballot boxes will be tamperproof? The bill does not state whether the Secretary of State will hold the power to mail out absentee ballot applications or if it will remain with the town clerks. After the Secretary of States disaster with the August 2020 Primary can we expect the same for November? I feel it is very important for people to exercise their voice and maintain their right to vote; and while I have my concerns, ultimately providing a safe way for people to vote on election day outweighed the negatives for me. We need to minimize the health risk and give everyone an opportunity to vote weather it is in person or by way of absentee ballot.
While I was ultimately able to support Absentee Voting, I found I could not do the same with HB 6003, An Act Concerning Diabetes and High Deductible Health Plans. This bill is to cap the co-pay on insulin and related drugs and supplies – making the co-pay on insulin $25 and the co-pay on related supplies $100 over a thirty-day period. While this bill is well intended it has many flaws. Certainly, if this lowered the cost of insulin, I would have supported it — after all, who wouldn’t.
If you have a high out-of-pocket co-pay you may benefit from this legislation; however, since this still fails to address the high general cost of insulin the high-deductible plans will still need to be met. As we have all recently seen there are many people who have lost their jobs and with that, their health insurance. HB 6003 also fails to protect the under and uninsured, leaving them fully liable for exorbitant pricing. When I speak with my constituents, one of the most common complaints that I hear is unbearably high costs of premiums and deductibles. Too many others are paying incredible amounts for other lifesaving medications such as EpiPens and cancer treatments such chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The result with this legislation is that insurance companies will have no choice but to raise premiums to offset their loss – which was proven to be true when the bill was questioned on the floor. In fact, just recently Anthem announced they will be seeking premium increase of 9.5% for 2021 health plans due to rising medical costs and ConnectiCare announced a 5.5% increase.
The response to questioning why this will not take effect until 2021 was that insurance companies will need time to adjust their premiums, and most likely raising them again in 2022, making it clear that all of us will feel the negative effects of this legislation. The bill also has an increase cost to municipalities. When costs go up to towns, they are typically disbursed back to residents through either tax increases or service reductions. This personally touched me because I also have family members who are diabetic and use insulin, so this was not an easy vote for me to cast. I am very sympathetic to the high costs people are paying for insulin, but I am also sympathetic to others who are paying an incredibly high costs for other drugs. Without a clear solution, for all my constituents that would have reduced the cost of insulin, I could not rightfully support this bill.
I could not support the last bill covered during Special Session either. HB 6004, An Act Concerning Police Accountability, which assumed all police officers operate in an improper manner. With the passing of HB 6004, retention and recruitment of law enforcement officers will drop drastically. Proportionally, when there are less police officers, crime rates will climb. The bill also prevents officers from requesting consent to search motor vehicles. Justifiable searches have an important task in helping to take drugs and guns off the street. HB 6004 also requires municipalities to pay for comparisons and evaluations on the feasibility of using social workers on calls; as well as, the purchase of body cameras and the associated data storage fees. Once again, municipalities and their taxpaying residents, will bear the burden of new costs for new liability insurance coverage for every police officer and excessive litigation expense due to the elimination of qualified immunity. These, along with many other aspects of the bill will jeopardize the safety and security of our police officers and residents. Our police officers are good decent people who care about protecting people and our communities. We owe them a debt of gratitude for risking their lives every day. I hope I have provided some clarity on these issues. It is my honor to serve our community and I will continue to fight for our voices to be heard.
As always, please contact me should you have any questions or concerns on these pieces of legislation and any other issues relating to state government at Gale.Mastrofrancesco@housegop.ct.gov or at (800) 842-1423.