SUSTINET IN DANGER BECAUSE OF THE DREADED ‘FISCAL NOTE’

When the General Assembly first voted on the universal health care effort called Sustinet, it was a vote on the frame work; a vote on how to put it together; a free and safe vote for health care. Now that the plan actually has a price tag on it—known as the fiscal note—people are rethinking the plan. Among those that the fiscal note has given pause is Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) pegs the cost of providing coverage for the noninsured and the poor at up to $483 million annually in new expenditures. Ouch. Gov. Malloy is quoted as saying he supports the goals of Sustinet (who doesn’t?) but doesn’t think this is the “right vehicle” to achieve those goals. As the guy who has had to hear all the complaints about spending as he tries to sell his budget around the state, Malloy can hardly be blamed when he retreats from anything that would make balancing the budget more difficult.

This fiscal note is one of the occasional head-slapping, wake-up calls that might have the proponents Sustinet questioning OFA’s numbers. That’s an exercise in futility. (The Shad remembers being in the room along with OFA officials when a certain budget bill was debated between Democrats and Republicans back during the Rowland administration. The projected fiscal note didn’t help the case of then-budget director Marc Ryan. Ryan then proceeded to trash OFA to the media, insinuating they were in the pocket of the Dems. The professionals at OFA are beyond partisanship and beyond reproach. Ryan looked silly. Proponents of Sustinet should go to school on this story.)

Juan Figueroa, the bright and passionate head of the United Health Care Foundation, is already questioning OFA’s numbers, saying they “don’t jibe” with numbers from their experts. Speaker of the House Chris Donovan also has doubts about OFA’s fiscal note, saying the projected cost savings v. the current system “are conservative.”

Malloy’s retreat from Sustinet as the proper vehicle for expanded health care for the poor combined with other former supporters bailing because of changes made to the original bill means Sustinet faces a huge, uphill battle.