Health Reform Gets $615K Boost

Connecticut might be broke, but it now has more than a half-million dollars to help put health reform into action.

The money—$615,000 in all—comes in the form of grants from four private charitable organizations. It will help a new state panel put together a plan called “SustiNet” aimed at bringing universal health care to Connecticut and linking up with the new federal health reform law.

The four donor organizations are the Connecticut Health Foundation (CHF), the Universal Health Care Foundation (UHCF), the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Lead Trust, and the State Coverage Initiatives, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ). Representatives from the groups announced and discussed the joint effort in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

The money will pay for health experts to work with the SustiNet panel on how to bring universal coverage to Connecticut:  how to improve care, cut costs, improve electronic record-keeping, address racial and economic inequities in the system, and take care of people in “medical homes.”

The legislature set up the 11-member panel last year after passing the so-called “SustiNet” law over a veto by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Over 150 nurses, doctors, actuaries, business people, and other volunteers are helping that panel. But it needs professional, expert help in putting all the work together, said UHCF chief Frances Padilla. And the government lacks the money to pay for that help.

“In this day and age, no one can do it alone,” said CHF President Pat Baker, whose organization contributed $300,000, one of its largest single-year grants ever. “It takes government. It takes philanthropies. It takes individuals. It takes communities ... We’re going to make this work.”

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman and state Healthcare Advocate (and comptroller hopeful) Kevin Lembo chair the SustiNet board. Gov. Rell has appointed her own health reform group that had the potential of working at odds with the SustiNet board, potentially taking a more hands-off approach to managed-care companies. Wyman and Lembo Tuesday expressed confidence that with the new money, and with Rell’s term ending, no such friction will develop in the years ahead.

“We have made every effort over the last few months to collaborate where possible with the governor’s efforts,” Lembo said. “I have no reason to believe that that collaboration will not continue. This new infusion of resources behind SustiNet will propel our planning process forward ... I believe the executive order [that created her health reform group] will expire with her tenure.”

The challenge now, in the words of UHCF spokeswoman Janet Davenport, is to “make sure Connecticut delivers on the promise” of the new state and federal health reform laws.

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