Experts advising the SustiNet Board on setting the future of healthcare in Connecticut say the state program could influence some small businesses to drop their insurance plans, which ironically means their employees could find themselves uninsured and looking for coverage.

That’s an odd forecast for a group whose mission is to increase the number of insured people in Connecticut. The SustiNet board of directors is required to deliver to lawmakers a plan to implement healthcare reform in the state, and the legislature will then decide whether to move forward with whatever plan is presented to them, adopt an amended plan, or take no action.

At a recent meeting of the Board, directors began flushing out how they envision the SustiNet health plan to take shape. Most notably, the Board agreed that SustiNet should start by insuring all state and municipal employees, as well as all Medicaid and HUSKY enrollees (as reported by the Yankee Institute).

Board members also agreed that SustiNet should hold out the possibility of expanding who it covers at a future date to potentially include the employees of small businesses and nonprofits in the state-run plan. Even with the Board’s recent decisions, several questions about SutiNet still remain, including:

How much will SustiNet really cost? The levels of insurance benefit coverage in SustiNet are still yet-to-be-determined, so ultimate pricing of the plan remains speculative (start-up costs have also not been estimated yet). Logically, however, the real cost of any health insurance plan depends on what exactly is being covered and provided.

Haven’t things changed? All of the options considered by SustiNet supposedly will save the state money because they are based on getting more federal dollars. That’s being optimistic, given the political change in Congress and probable efforts by the new House GOP to change, rollback or potentially defund key elements of federal healthcare reform.

How will it impact jobs? Employers in Connecticut say uncertainty over federal reforms is one of the reasons why they’re not adding jobs. Now they face more uncertainty over a state-run plan of uncertain cost that will depend on federal dollars and will be launched while Connecticut is in a fiscal crisis. That’s not a confidence-builder, nor is the likelihood that a state-run system would undermine the private insurance market which is responsible for tens of thousands of jobs.

Will it cut costs or just shift them? SustiNet Board members correctly say that small businesses are struggling with the cost of healthcare. The Board in fact has looked at ways to cut costs, such as the use of the patient-centered medical home concept, electronic medical records, and payment reform. And that’s precisely what the primary focus of healthcare reform should be--actually reducing costs--not simply changing our healthcare financing system.

Unfortunately, its seems the aim of SustiNet is still to shift more people onto taxpayer-funded plans rather than lowering costs. That will only increase state spending and, from what earlier projections have found, the state debt.

More is to be done on the issue, and Lt. Gov.-elect Nancy Wyman, SustiNet Board co-chair, has said the incoming administration would take a close look at the issue. That’s a good idea because while there is desire in some quarters to move this idea forward, there are many reasons why it doesn’t add up.

And Connecticut, especially now, can’t afford not to know what its financial obligations might be.