HARTFORD -- Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday signed two major pieces of legislation introduced and passed by Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford) dealing with health care.
The first, Public Act 19-159 (An Act Concerning Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits), requires insurance companies to treat mental health and addiction treatment the same way they treat physical health and creates an accountability process to determine whether they are complying.
Scanlon first introduced the bill in 2018 with former state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. after a shocking report released in December 2017 by Milliman showed that Connecticut had the worst parity compliance in the entire United States.
“For too long Connecticut has lagged behind the rest of the nation when it comes to ensuring equal treatment for those with mental illness and substance use disorder,” said Rep. Scanlon. “After a long fight for fairness, today’s bill signing represents a new day for our state when it comes to ending discriminatory insurance practices and making sure everyone in Connecticut has access to the care they need.”
This year, Scanlon teamed up with Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-Fairfield) to re-introduce the bill and the bipartisan bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously.
“There should never be a difference in health care for someone who has a disease of the brain versus a disease of the body and from now on there won't be,” Scanlon said.
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the brother of former state Senator Kennedy Jr. and a leading advocate for mental health in the United States, came to Connecticut to testify in favor of the bill and attended today’s bill signing.
“I thank Representative Scanlon for his dedication to House Bill 7125 and for his tireless efforts to end the separate and unequal system of care those with mental health and substance use disorders have faced for far too long. He is a true champion of mental health equity,” former Congressman Kennedy said.
Pre-existing condition protection
The second bill, Public Act 19-134 (An Act Expanding Required Health Insurance Coverage for Pre-existing Conditions), puts into state law the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that protects those with pre-existing conditions from being discriminated by insurance companies.
“Regardless of what happens to the Affordable Care Act in Washington, no one in Connecticut should be worried about losing their insurance because they have cancer or diabetes,” Scanlon said.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, 522,000 non-elderly adults – or one in four residents – in Connecticut have what would be considered to be a pre-existing condition.
Scanlon said he has heard from constituents who are worried about what will happen to their insurance coverage if the Affordable Care Act goes away.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments about whether or not the entire Affordable Care Act should be invalidated. The Trump administration and 18 states are leading the effort behind the motion to invalidate.
“The President has said on many occasions he wants to protect those with pre-existing conditions but he has yet to reveal his plan to do so and if his lawyers are successful in the Fifth Circuit, the entire ACA including those protections will be struck down which is precisely why we acted,” Scanlon said.
This is the second time since becoming chairman of the legislature’s Insurance Committee in 2017 that Scanlon has codified a piece of the Affordable Care Act into state law. Last year he led the successful effort to put the ACA’s ten “Essential Health Benefits” into state law. These benefits require each insurance policy sold to the public to cover essential health care rights such as prescription drugs, pregnancy and hospitalization.
Importing drugs from Canada
For the last two years, Scanlon said he has made lowering drug prices one of his biggest priorities.
In 2018, Scanlon worked with state Comptroller Kevin Lembo to introduce and pass Connecticut’s first prescription drug price transparency law, which requires drug companies to justify their largest price increases. This year, he set out make Connecticut the second state in the nation to allow for the importation of drugs from Canada.
“I've always viewed this as a multi-year strategy; last year was about holding drug companies and bad actors accountable and this year was about actually lowering drug costs for Connecticut residents,” Scanlon said.
According to AARP, Canadian drugs are on average 35 to 55 percent cheaper than American drugs. Scanlon said these savings could be life-changing, especially for seniors.
Scanlon's bill passed the House with overwhelming support but never came up for a vote in the Senate. Though disappointed, Scanlon said he would absolutely revisit the issue next year.
“The Washington Post recently ran a story about groups of Americans who are carpooling to Canada to buy insulin because they can't afford it here,” he said. “That's terrible and I’m confident we can get this passed next year so that the only time people are driving to Canada by this time next year is for a summer vacation, not for life-saving drugs.”
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