As newborn insurance measure dies, lawmaker charges retribution

Photo of Julia Bergman
State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said his bill protecting the families of newborns waskilled at the last minute because he had criticized a different insurance bill.

State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said his bill protecting the families of newborns waskilled at the last minute because he had criticized a different insurance bill.

Cassandra Day / Middletown Press /

Connecticut newborns will not be automatically enrolled in health insurance coverage, a policy that was seen as a way to protect parents of premature babies from surprise hospital bills.

The proposal had been contained in the 837-page document that finalizes the state budget, which the state Senate adopted Thursday, one day after the House of Representatives adopted it. It was removed right before th House vote in an act of political retribution by one or more members of the House, the bill’s main advocate, state Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, charged Thursday.

“I understand there’s horse-trading, but this is still shocking to me that people would play this game,” Lesser said from the Senate floor after voting to pass the so-called budget implementer bill. “The message I was given from my leadership and the governor’s office was that it was intended to punish me. I just find that baffling and just sad.”

Each year the massive bill is a repository for political wish lists and 11th hour trade-offs over bills that did not pass on their own, in addition to necessary policy provisions. The newborn bill had been included in the omnibus bill after it passed the Senate unanimously but did not receive a vote in the House.

Lesser’s bill would have required certain health insurance policies that cover family members to cover newborns from birth.

The measure was removed, Lesser said, because he attacked a House proposal that would have provided a tax break for businesses that used offshore captive insurance companies.

Captive insurance companies are an alternative to self-insurance that allow mostly large businesses to create their own insurance companies to save costs from using traditional commercial insurance companies.

A more limited version of the captive insurance bill died in the Insurance committee, which Lesser co-chairs with Rep. Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill. Some provisions included in the implementer were never part of a public hearing or were not vetted by any legislative committee, he said.

At Lesser’s request, the captive insurance measure was removed from the implementer bill. He said his objection was not to captive insurance but to a tax break and other provisions that had not been vetted.

Lesser did not name the proponent of the tax proposal. But his insurance co-chair, Wood, has pushed for ways to make it easier for captive insurance companies to do business in Connecticut. She did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Wood and Lesser clashed on other issues this year, most notably the question of creating a state-directed health plan, which Lesser has favored for years.

“I understand people want to give corporate tax breaks but the idea that you would punish the parents of preemies because you disagree with me on tax policy I think is baffling and just really dispiriting,” Lesser said.

Lesser brought his four-and-a-half-month-old son, Samuel, to Thursday’s special session — not as “a prop” to make his point, he quipped — but at the request of Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who his colleagues call the baby whisperer. Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, brought her baby daughter, Rose to the Senate floor.

The omnibus bill includes $229 million more in municipal aid and increased funding for community nonprofit agencies that provide most of the social services in the state, including an added $60 million over two years for adult’s and children’s mental health addiction services.

The bill also includes Medicaid increases as part of deals negotiated by the Lamont administration to provide better pay and benefits for nursing home and group home workers, who’d threatened large scale strikes. It also includes include an increase in the state’s earned income tax credit.

Another $26 million in Department of Economic and Community Development grants will be appropriated over the next two years for organizations such as the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport and the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas.

julia.bergman@hearstmediact.com