Connecticut fumbles its priorities

In the waning days of the legislative session, I was on a mission to find $19 million in the state budget.

This money would have been used to make health care more affordable by backing a reinsurance program, similar to one I proposed earlier in the year, that Access Health Connecticut estimated would save people 5 percent on health care premiums.

After scouring the budget, I offered numerous savings ideas that would have freed up the needed funds. From Medicaid carry forwards, to cutting back on political mailers and campaign swag, I brought ideas to the table.

But each and every one was rejected.

I was told by the Democratic majority that the only way to fund the reinsurance program was by a tax increase on the very people I was trying to reduce costs for. Access Health’s consultant warned that such a tax would make the reinsurance program a wash for consumers, or hurt our chances at receiving the greatest amount of federal funding. So, this effort to make health care more affordable fizzled, because majority Democrats were unwilling to find the money in their $40 billion budget to make your health care a priority.

Fast-forward to today and a different topic. UConn made a unilateral decision to leave the American Athletic Conference and join the Big East. It’s a decision that will cost taxpayers at the very least $13.5 million (and likely more if UConn gives less than 27 months’ notice). Yet no one is batting an eye. No one is questioning where the money will come from, or asking what program won’t get funded as a result. It is simply accepted that UConn has committed our state to this cost, period. In fact, Gov. Lamont even donned a tie and posed with Jonathan on campus to “approve” the decision.

It’s mind boggling that Connecticut is so quick to prioritize so many issues, except for one that I believe should be at the top of any list: affordable health care.

There are more than 190,000 people in our state who do not have health insurance, enough people to fill Rentschler Field nearly five times.

Yet majority Democrats were unwilling to commit $19 million to make health care for thousands a priority. At the same time there are no qualms about finding millions of dollars for another issue, after the budget has already been passed, signed and enacted.

Budgeting is about making tough decisions and choosing priorities.

While health care and lowering premium cost was not a priority for the Connecticut Democrats in charge this session, it is a priority for many, including me, in the State Senate.

Lowering insurance premiums and making health care affordable needs to be the first thing we fund, not the last.

Health care cannot remain on the sidelines. It must be our focus — not an afterthought.

State Sen. Kevin Kelly represents the 21st Senate District including Monroe, Seymour, Shelton and Stratford. He serves as the ranking member of the General Assembly’s Insurance Committee, Children’s Committee and Aging Committee. More information at