Nobody knows for certain what the state’s SustiNet health plan is going to cost Connecticut taxpayers, but its board of directors continues to press forward with the plan’s rollout—albeit perhaps more slowly than first anticipated.

Last week, The SustiNet Board of Directors announced the development of a timeline for the SustiNet health plan. The board is required to advise the legislature on how Connecticut’s healthcare system should be reformed, and the SustiNet health plan would be the vehicle for that reform.

Despite not knowing cost of state-run healthcare—and how much of it Connecticut can really afford—a consultant working with the board said that the board has focused not so much on what is feasible to do, but when to do it.

Several members of the board want SustiNet to act as a state-run health insurance public option, which would be the most expensive and expansive route. Given the state’s poor track record of paying for its current healthcare obligations, that prospect is troublesome.

In fact, it’s quite possible that if SustiNet does become a state-run healthcare system, the current cost-shifting from underfunded public insurance plans to already overburdened private plans would get worse.

In addition, SustiNet ultimately would compete with Connecticut’s private-sector insurance industry, which could put even more jobs in jeopardy and increase already high health care costs. Still, the board announced a potential timeline for SustiNet:

  • 2011 - Combine all participants of Medicaid, HUSKY, SAGA and state employees/retirees into one omnibus group
  • 2012 - Expand the populations that would be eligible for HUSKY and open SustiNet to small businesses, nonprofits and municipalities
  • 2014 – Sell SustiNet both inside and outside Connecticut’s new, federally required health insurance exchange

Given the state’s shaky fiscal condition, however, Lt. Governor-Elect Nancy Wyman, SustiNet co-chair, acknowledged, “We might have to do SustiNet a little slower than we’d hoped.”

Just as Congress is set to modify and cut back the ambitious federal healthcare reform, Connecticut policymakers should proceed more cautiously on something as large-scale as SustiNet.

Connecticut businesses would prefer to see SustiNet roll out elements of health care reform that would actually improve the healthcare system rather than simply increase costs and threaten Connecticut jobs.

Commonsense reforms would include chronic-disease management, medical homes, electronic medical records, and quality and cost comparisons of doctors. While the board has shown an interest in promoting such proposals, its emphasis has been on pursuing a government-run healthcare system.

The board is expected to vote on its recommendations later this month and forward a report to the legislature in early January.