New Haven Independent
by  | Mar 2, 2018 7:44 am

Hartford — A bipartisan team of women legislators held a joint press conference here Thursday ahead of a public hearing on a bill that would preserve in Connecticut the 10 benefits established by the federal Affordable Health Care Act’s passage in 2010.

Those ten benefits ensure coverage of ambulatory services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity services; mental health and substance abuse services; prescription drug coverage; rehabilitative services; lab services; preventative and wellness care; and pediatric services. The bill also would allow uninsured and insured women who become pregnant to have access to maternity coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act currently, becoming pregnant can still get you denied insurance coverage.

The state bill would ensure that no matter what the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress do with the ACA (aka “Obamacare”),  people in Connecticut would continue to have access to health insurance that covers those 10 benefits.

The lawmakers said the bill wouldn’t be a new mandate since insurers are already providing such coverage. Rather, the bill is a pre-emptive strike against ongoing efforts at the federal level to repeal Obamacare, which expanded access to not only health insurance but also contraception and maternity care for women.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill during a public hearing Thursday before the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee. No vote was taken.

State Rep. Robyn Porter, who represents the Newhallville section of New Haven and part of Hamden said, such health insurance coverage is particularly meaningful to communities of color. She said lack of access to contraception means abortion — a last resort option to an unplanned pregnancy— becomes a means of contraception. She said because of the Affordable Care Act more women have access and are less reliant on abortion as a means of birth control.

She said to go backward to a time when cost is a barrier to contraception is unacceptable. “Not only is it impacting us economically but also physically,” she said. “What is the damage being done to women physically [from using abortion as contraception] and how will that impact them down the road when they want to start a family? There are just so many more effective ways to control when women have kids.”

New Haven State Reps. Pat Dillon and Roland Lemar are also co-sponsors on the bill.

State Sen. Mae Flexer, a Guilford Democrat, called the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act an attack on women’s healthcare.

“It’s absolutely critical that the state of Connecticut step up and protect women’s health care,” she said. “We’re here to stand up and say in Connecticut we’re going to protect those benefits. We’re going to make sure that the 10 essential health care benefits that were a key part of the Affordable Care Act will stay in place here in Connecticut.

“We’re also going to make sure that women continue to have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care in the state of Connecticut no matter what happens with decisions in Washington, D.C.” she added.

Flexer said that the proposal is bipartisan because Connecticut values women’s healthcare in a different way.

“Women here work together and make sure that women will be protected in spite of extreme actions of our federal government,” she said. “These bills are going to ensure that women in Connecticut don’t have to worry about having access to health care. That they will be able to continue to access free contraception, which is critical for so many women.

“Since contraception has been free under the affordable care act more and more women have access to preventing unwanted pregnancies and also making sure that women who need access to birth control for other health care issues can have that coverage,” Flexer said.

State Rep. Liz Linehan, a Cheshire Democrat, noted that many families in the state are one healthcare disaster away from bankruptcy and she said that the bill would help alleviate some of that burden. State Rep. Caroline Simmons, a Stamford Democrat, added that 900,000 women work in Connecticut, 400,000 of whom are in their reproductive years. Thirteen percent of those women, she said, are the primary breadwinners in their household.

Republican State Rep. Terrie Wood, who represents Norwalk and Darien, called the bill essential.

“It’s a foundational freedom for women, and it’s the best thing we can do to support all women in our state with equality, fairness, and common sense,” she said.

Sally Grossman of Windsor said having access to an IUD might have been the difference between whether she and her partner got pregnant, or could have waited until they were more financially stable. Because she suffers from migraines, she can’t take most hormonal contraceptives. When her doctor recommended she try an IUD, a method that has a 99 percent effectiveness rate, she couldn’t get it because her private insurance didn’t cover it.

She got pregnant with her son in 2012 though she and her partner were using condoms, which have an 85 percent effectiveness rate. Her insurance would not cover maternity once she discovered she was pregnant because the pregnancy was still considered a pre-existing condition. (At that time, even though Obamacare had taken effect, people in Connecticut couldn’t yet buy into it.)

“My son is the best thing that ever happened to me, but my partner and I would have preferred to wait until we were in a more comfortable financial situation before starting our family,” she said. “My lack of affordable birth control options contributed to me getting pregnant. No one should have an unplanned pregnancy simply because they lack access to effective and affordable contraceptives.”

Lynne Ide, director of programs and policies for the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said the 10 parts of the ACA cited in the bill”are not frivolous frilly things.”

“We should not be asking people to spend their hard-earned dollars and businesses to shell out their money to cover their employees when these kinds of protections are not afforded us in our healthcare plans,” Ide said. “The only thing standing between people and the families of Connecticut losing these benefits are these legislators here and the rest of the legislators in our General Assembly.

“Connecticut needs to follow a handful of other states and what I believe will be more states and tell the folks in D.C. that they cannot undo the gains that have been made under the Affordable Care Act for the people of our state, for the health of our state, for the pocketbook of our state. It will not do us any good to be selling people plans that do not cover these things.”

Porter said given the bipartisan support for the bill and the fact that it made it out of the Senate on a unanimous vote last year, she believes the bill will pass this year. But she said there are questions to be asked about how to keep health insurance affordable in Connecticut.

Republicans are pushing a separate bill to open the Connecticut exchange to cover uninsured pregnant women. Click here to read Christine Stuart’s story about that.



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