Category Archives: Government

Bill Would Require Labor Breakdown For Companies Receiving Big State Aid

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government, Labor, Politics, Public finance Date:

State taxpayers want to get their money’s worth when they give a company a huge aid package, and to that end, many lawmakers want to add a new hurdle.

Any firm that gets at least $10 million in state assistance would have to file a report showing how it intends to favor Connecticut-based contractors for any construction work covered by the aid, under a bill that advanced Thursday in the legislature.

The firms would also have to report on the names of construction contractors, the total number of full-time construction employees on the site and the wages paid, and the total number of construction workers on the project who live in Connecticut.

“We want to see more Connecticut construction jobs as a result of these state investments,” said state Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, which advanced the bill to the Senate floor in a 12-5 vote.

The bill is part of a long debate over how much the state should demand of the companies it backs with economic development aid. Unions support the bill and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes it, saying it’s onerous.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s development commissioner, Catherine H. Smith, told lawmakers she’s concerned the bill “may dissuade some larger companies from considering the state.

The administration’s caution is probably wise. Promoting local jobs is great but we wouldn’t want other states to shut out Connecticut-based construction workers. And when it comes to new business regulations, Connecticut is on the watch list — so we should pass up even some decent ideas, for the greater good.

Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger Exit California Market Over Gun Rules

by Categorized: Firearms, Government Date:

Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger are pulling out of the California market for the sale of some new firearms, Reuters and Fox News report, as the nation’s biggest state rolls out rules requiring gun-makers to offer microstamping of serial numbers on ammunition for new and redesigned models.

The whole gun industry, led by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, is fighting the California law, and efforts in other states to adopt similar laws. They say the technology is costly but ineffective in solving crime, and is not sufficiently developed for mass production

It should come as no surprise that Smith & Wesson, of Springfield, is leading the charge against microstamping.  The historic gunmaker has been burned before, when it complied with government rules on smart-gun technology.

Late in the Clinton administration, a coalition of federal agencies and cities tried to adopt rules favoring the purchase of firearms that had advanced safety standards, including technology that could make it harder for people to use stolen or illegally purchased guns.  Seven manufacturers, including Colt’s and Sturm, Ruger, filed a lawsuit saying the proposed rules were unconstitutional.

But Smith & Wesson sided with the government — and paid the price in a backlash by customers.

See The Courant’s Daily Buzz question today; Should Bullets Be Microstamped?

Most companies in the industry, including Colt’s, decline to say publicly how they’re progressing in smart-gun technology, as they oppose mandates but could gain an advantage by coming out first with workable systems.

Rifle Registration: Upward Of 30,000 Gun Owners And Counting

by Categorized: Firearms, Government Date:

As the deadline for gun-owners arrived Tuesday, upward of 30,000 Connecticut residents declared that they own at least one assault weapon and registrations were still arriving in the mail.

The big question looking forward, which we’ll never be able to answer, is this: How many owners of military-style rifles didn’t register their weapons, thereby becoming criminals as of Wednesday? And what will state officials do about it?

State officials estimated 25,000 people registered as of Friday, and since then, thousands more came in by mail and in person at State Police headquarters in Middletown. Many owned just one firearm, said Lt. Paul Vance, state police spokesman. But, he said, “There are some who have many assault weapons.”

Separately, as of Friday, 17,000 people had registered magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, with many more coming in — and some declaring dozens of magazines.

A final count of all registrations won’t be available for several days, Vance said.

The numbers have been a mystery even to people watching the process closely. Some estimates circulating in the state Capitol last spring had more than 100,000 assault weapons in Connecticut, perhaps as many as 250,000, under the broader definition established by the law that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed April 4.

Lines at state police headquarters in Middletown were moving smoothly, down to about 20 people by late Tuesday morning, Vance said. Earlier, and on Monday, he said, “It wrapped around the building, it was extremely long.”

Vance said employees were helping people in the lines so that many didn’t have to wait until they reached the front. “We took some people out of the office in special licensing and firearms to accomplish the task,” he said. By afternoon, the lines were gone.

Under the April 4 law, most rifles with semiautomatic action, meaning they reload a round with each pull of the trigger, and with military-style characteristics such as a pistol grip, were classified as “assault weapons” even though the gun industry considers an assault weapon to be a fully automatic firearm, shooting multiple shots with one pull of the trigger — which is illegal for civilians to own except in rare cases.

Firearms defined by the state as assault weapons were not legal for sale in Connecticut as of April 4, and anyone who owned one prior to that date had to register it by Tuesday. As of Wednesday, it is a Class D felony to own an unregistered assault weapon made after 1993, when a state law outlawed the sale of a narrower group of assault weapons. It’s a misdemeanor if the resident has owned the gun since before the 1993 law.

Owners of those firearms that were made illegal for sale in 1993, and again when the state’s definition of assault weapons was broadened in 2000, were required to register them, but that list totals only a few thousand, said Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice at the state Office of Policy and Management.

Gun owners on the line who spoke with a Courant reporter on Friday did like having to register, and did not like the idea that the law is creating a new class of felons who were previously law-abiding citizens. Though an exact count of unregistered guns will be impossible to tally, there are records of retail gun sales, which could tell officials who in Connecticut owns a gun — assuming that gun had not been sold privately.

“It would be interesting to compare those names,” Lawlor said. He stopped short of suggesting the state would conduct an active search for owners of unregistered guns.

The felony charge is already in effect for anyone who owns an assault weapon that he or she did not own prior to April 4, as happened in the case of a University of New Haven student who was charged with illegally owning a Bushmaster.

And starting April 1, 2014, all transfers of rifles in Connecticut, including private sales, will be subject to registration. Since 1994, owners have had to register handgun transfers.

The numbers, once tallied in a few days, will tell a story about firearms in Connecticut, though an incomplete one, said Lawlor, who, as a lawmaker, was instrumental in the earlier gun registration and ban laws.

“At the end of the day the goal is to enforce responsible ownership,” Lawlor said. “The goal is to have fewer people getting shot.”

State Rolls Out ‘Mental Health Parity’ Web Page

by Categorized: Government, Health Care Date:

Not a word was said about Newtown, but on Tuesday, 54 weeks after the tragedy, the governor’s office and Insurance Department announced a new web page designed to help families navigate mental health-related coverage through health insurers.

The page includes a “behavioral health tool kit,” a pdf that helps consumers understand what coverage they might be entitled to, how best to seek reimbursement, how to seek pre-authorization for services and what information they must provide to their insurers when it comes to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment.

“Your health insurer needs to hear from your doctor that the care you receive is medically necessary. There are rules on how this is decided,” the tool kit advises.

Those rules are, of course, anything but simple. The state in 1997 and 2000, and the federal government in 2008, advanced laws designed to bring about “mental health parity,” in which substance abuse and behavioral health treatment is managed in the same way as other medical treatment. The Health Reform Act expanded required access to plans that offer parity.

But as a state report of December 2012 noted, a debate continues between advocates for expanded care and insurance companies.

The new web page should bring some of the benefits of the rules closer to the grasp of patients.

“Our focus remains sharply on removing barriers to mental health treatment and allowing families to get the help and support they need,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in a written statement. “We continue to enhance our mental health infrastructure in a number of ways and this online resource is one more example of that.”

Although Malloy did not mention Newtown in the statement, he referred to the state enhancing its “mental health infrastructure,” a phrase that gained urgency after the shooting — but which was not fully addressed by the legislature in 2013.

Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi said, “Sometimes those barriers to access are piles of insurance paperwork and it doesn’t have to be that way…“Our staff is here for you – the consumer – to answer your questions, investigate your complaints and get you the care and coverage you need.”

Much was said about mental health access in the wake of the Newtown shootings, though it was not clear that the shooter and his family experienced barriers to needed access.

Still, related to Newtown or not, as with gun control it’s clear that the issue of access now has a higher profile.

Connecticut Innovations Launches New Brand

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government Date:

Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public technology investment agency, unveiled new logos and branding that emphasizes its broader reach, including a more dynamic website (www.ctinnovations.com) and services that reflect its 2012 merger with the Connecticut Development Authority.

CTI_Logo_Final

The web page opens with an image in the shape of a brain, with a network of multi-colored bands that could be imagined to represent the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that CI is working to nurture, dubbed CTNEXT.

CTI_Ribbon_Brain

The consolidated CI has become more active in dealmaking under Claire Leonardi, with debt deals, grants, internships, networking and other services to augment its core function, equity deals in start-up and early stage companies. “The early-stage portfolio now contains 91 companies,” CI said in a release.

Malloy: Obama’s Health Plan Fix ‘Doesn’t Work In Connecticut’

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance, Politics Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday that the state won’t allow insurance companies to reopen health plans through 2014 that did not comply with the Affordable Care Act and had been retired.

The decision was largely symbolic because insurance companies have already declined to offer the policies.  Malloy confirmed Friday that the companies would not reopen them even if they were permitted.

The move affects policies on the individual market only, not those sold through employers. Just under 53,000 Connecticut people are in policies that insurers are ending, either because their plans don’t comply with Obamacare standards, or for other reasons.

In a last-ditch hope for a fix on Nov. 14, President Barack Obama asked states to allow those plans to continue.  But despite criticism from Republicans aimed at Malloy, it’s unlikely that the governor could have changed the picture. Even if those policies were to continue for an extra year, prices would have been higher, Malloy said Friday.

“The solution offered by the president a week ago doesn’t work in Connecticut,” Malloy said in an appearance Friday morning at the Connecticut Convention Center, where he opened the Connecticut International Auto Show. “It would disrupt the industry, but more important, the industry made it clear that they were not going to offer these policies.”

Malloy said he asked Connecticut’s health exchange, Access Health CT, for a one-week extension of the deadline to sign up for plans that take effect Jan. 1, to Dec. 22, to help accommodate people shut out of plans.

SNAPSHOT OF CONNECTICUT’S MARKET

(figures show number of people in affected individual plans, not number of plans)

Total covered: 108,287 (four companies)

In grandfathered pre-Obamacare plans that are being moved to ACA-compliant plans: 25,097

In grandfathered pre-Obamacare plans that are continuing: 14,130

In non-exempt plans that accepted option for early renewal to continue in 2014: 30,459 (41,169 were offered)

In non-exempt plans that are migrating to ACA-compliant plans: 38,601

Malloy joins governors in a number of other states, including Massachusetts, who have already reached the same conclusion. Typically, according to the Washington Post, states that are accepting the fix are the ones that did not embrace health reform and do not have their own exchanges operating.

Friday’s events provided rich political intrigue. Obama is able to say he tried to offer a solution but the states wouldn’t take it. Democratic governors such as Malloy — who is likely to seek re-election next year –  are able to distance themselves from a Democratic president whose popularity is plummeting due to this very issue.

And Republicans took the opportunity to slam Malloy for rejecting a fix that they said would have helped Connecticut residents — even though Malloy had no power to compel insurers to offer plans they didn’t want to offer.

“Instead of acting on my call to bring the General Assembly into session to amend state law so that these policies could be continued, the Governor rejected my request and his insurance commissioner has told us to ‘forget about the numbers.’” said Sen. John McKinney, the state Senate majority leader. “But we can’t do that.  Unfortunately for Governor Malloy, these ‘numbers’ represent real people.”

Based on figures released by Malloy’s office Friday, there are 52,988 Connecticut residents whose plans were dropped by insurers. That includes 27,891 people in 16,204 individual policies that were not compliant with the Affordable Care Act, but could have been extended for another year if insurers had opted to do so.  Another 25,097 people in 15,057 individual policies were in plans that could have continued indefinitely because they pre-dated Obamacare, but were dropped by insurers.

GOP state chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a written release that Malloy  is “refusing to accept responsibility….By deciding to do nothing, Governor Malloy made sure that those with canceled policies will face higher costs for less coverage.”

They may have a legitimate beef with Obamacare for shutting out some customers’ policies but the fix was simply not workable in a state that carefully regulates the market. It’s too late for regulators to reconsider closed plans in time for a January enrollment.

And, insurers said, it might have led to higher prices on some other plans as insurers scrambled to rebalance their offerings.

“To those who think we should have a special session because there’s some magical way for us to fix the issue, I say you’re wrong,” Malloy said in response to the GOP critics.

For people closed out of old plans, the bad news is that prices on the individual market are up by 15 percent to 200 percent, Malloy said.  The good news is that many residents are eligible for federal subsidies — households of four with incomes as high as $94,000, and one-person households with income as high as $44,000.

“We’re going to work with people, walk them through their options, and get them covered either on the exchange or with a private plan that makes sense for their needs,” he said.

Keith Stover, a spokesman for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, an industry loybbying group, hailed Malloy’s announcement. “We think staying the course is the right and wise decision,” he said.

Officials at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, the state’s largest insurer with 46,000 individual members, and ConnectiCare, the third largest with 12,700, issued statements supporting Malloy’s decision.

Connecticut was already among the states that allowed insurers to continue non-compliant plans into 2014 — if they went through the regulatory process. The companies and customers that did continue those plans –19,251 policies covering 30,459 people — are unaffected by Friday’s announcement. Those numbers can still rise over the next several days if more people who were offered extensions elect to take them.

CT Obamacare: Low On Young Adults, Better Than Feds

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance Date:

NOTE:  Click here for an updated version of this post, including details of Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi’s Oval Office meeting with Obama Wednesday on the subject of insurers dropping plans.

It looks like Access Health CT and the three insurers in the individual Obamacare exchange will have to step up their marketing to young adults.

Or, they can just hope that many more people age 18 to 34 are procrastinators waiting to sign up for health coverage on the exchange.

Through Nov. 14, there were 7,092 people enrolled in a private health plan, according to new figures from Access Health CT.   Of those, 1,322, or 18.6 percent, were between 18 and 34, a proportion that won’t cut it for insurers for most plans.

Click here to see the breakdown by age, insurer and type of coverage. Chart provided by Access Health CT. “QHP” is a qualified private health plan.

That group is key because they’re typically healthier, and requiring that they buy coverage is a way for insurers to keep the overall cost down. It’s too early to fret about the mix, and we know whether the group that did sign up is in fact healthier than the population as a whole. It’s possible that sicker young adults signed up first.

The largest age group signing up by far is 55-64, with 2,767 enrolled, or 39 percent of the total in the first six weeks of the Obamacare exchage operations.

Among health plans, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, with 62 percent, had the highest share. ConnectiCare had 35 percent and HealthyCT, a new plan formed by a group of doctors, had 2.4 percent, a total of 168 people.

Nationally, Connecticut was in the top three best performing states as of Nov. 1, when figures by state were released. The numbers are not comparable to Access Health CT’s figures because the federal report tallied it differently.

Hoping For Pipeline Work, A Union Trains Installers

by Categorized: Energy, Government, Jobs, Labor Date:

We could be years away from a big buildout of natural gas pipelines under the state’s long-term energy plan, but when it happens it could be big.

So on Tuesday, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 flexed some muscle by demonstrating its new training program for unemployed and underemployed workers hoping to get into the pipeline pipeline. The Meriden-based union local would like the work to go to its members, of course, and is offering up $4 million worth of equipment for training, along with experts.

“For over 100 years, Local 478 has been a top provider of highly skilled operating engineers in the state of Connecticut,” said Craig Metz, business manager for the local, in a written release.

The idea, pushed hard by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was on hand Tuesday, and encoded in an energy bill adopted earlier this year by lawmakers, is for the state to take advantage of natural gas supplies by building out a transmission and distribution system that regulators said could exceed 900 miles.

Predictions call for a shortage of crews in a state that now adds just a tiny fraction of that pipeline amount in a typical year. The operating engineers’ training program drew a lot of cheers from labor, construction and political quarters, as Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the state AFL-CIO called it a perfect example of government-labor cooperation.

It does look like a good idea and it’s better to be ready than not ready. The danger is that worker training programs are rife with potential pitfalls — especially if the work never materializes. Natural gas could spike in price, the planned buildout could face delays or another shock to the labor market could create a glut of pipeline workers.

But in both energy planning and labor markets, educated guesses are all we have. And for now, we think we’ll need pipeline installers for the next decade.

CT Health Exchange Enrollments Speeding Up In November

by Categorized: Government, Health Care Date:

New figures show that Access Health CT, the Obamacare exchange for Connecticut, is accelerating its enrollments in November, compared with October’s numbers.

That’s good news for the exchange, which already was one of the best performing systems in the nation according to federal data released Wednesday. The total number of people enrolled was 13,128 through Nov. 14, with a first-year goal of 100,000 through March 31.

Here are the latest Connecticut numbers released Friday, for the period of Nov. 1 to 14. Numbers for all of October are in parentheses.  All figures include small business totals, which are low.

Number of People Enrolled:  5,207 (7,921)

Applications Completed: 2,819 (4,626)

Private Plans: 3,207 (4,371)

Medicaid: 2,006 (3,550)

The federal numbers, issued by the Department of Health and Human services Wednesday, used different categories that are not reported by Access Health CT.  Those figures showed that Connecticut was among the highest states in per-capita enrollment, trailing only Kentucky in private plan enrollment per-capita, and trailing only Vermont in private plan enrollment per completed application.

 

Malloy Celebrates First Obamacare Store As Second Location Opens

by Categorized: Government, Health Care Date:

While many governors are cursing Obamacare, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sang the praises of health reform Thursday as he visited the New Britain health exchange storefront, one week after the location opened as the first of its kind in the nation.

The grand opening of the brightly colored store at 200 Main St. came a day after Access Health CT, the health exchange in Connecticut, opened the nation’s second Obamacare storefront — at 55 Church St., New Haven.

The stores are part of a $15 million outreach program that includes TV ads, direct help from more than 300 trained navigators and assisters and 100 people at community health centers, appearances at hundreds of events and a call center, at 855-805-4325.

State residents can also sign up without any direct help at www.accesshealthct.com.

“We’re taking a topic of national importance and connecting with people one-on-one at the most local level,” Malloy said in New Britain Thursday. “It’s this kind of personal outreach that’s going to make a difference in demonstrating the benefits and value of health care reform for our Connecticut residents.”

So far, about 50 people have signed up for health plans at the New Britain location, an Access Health CT spokeswoman said.

Connecticut’sonline exchange is moving toward circumventing the federal system and winning plaudits as the most reliable in the nation, while the federal Obamacare system, www.healthcare.gov, which runs the exchanges in 33 states, has been a national embarrassment. The White House and Department of Health and Human Services promise it will be fixed by the end of this month.

Both Connecticut stores are open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4:00 p.m.