Esty and Roraback: Issues that divide the 5th District candidates
By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter
Congressional contenders Andrew Roraback and Elizabeth Esty walked the same halls of Connecticut’s General Assembly during a single legislative session. Though one was a state representative and the other a state senator, both were afforded the chance to vote on the same public acts.
In some case they voted the same way. In other cases they voted differently. The year Esty was a state representative, 2009, was a big one for health insurance, many bills offering mandates on health insurance companies to which those companies strenuously objected.
On several occasions Republicans, including then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell voted in favor of those mandates, along with Roraback and his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Other health insurance issues were vetoed by the governor, then brought up again for veto override.
But it wasn’t just the year of health insurance. The death penalty, gun control, gambling, same-sex marriage, tax credits and breast health were all issues the state legislature mulled in 2009.
Putting non-state public employees on state self-insured insurance plans
In 2009, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill, that would “authorize the Comptroller to begin procedures to convert insurance plans … to allow nonstate public employers, municipal-related employers, small employers and nonprofit employers to join such self-insured plans.”
Override of the veto fell almost squarely down party lines, and the current 5th District candidates did not buck the trend.
Esty voted for the bill, and again to override the veto, but when the veto override vote came to the state Senate, it failed by one vote, and Rell’s veto stood. Roraback voted against the bill and against the veto override.
Roraback has spoken out against the federal Affordable Care Act, arguing instead for a state-based system of health insurance, but voted against SustiNet when it came to a vote in the state Senate.
The goal of SustiNet is to ensure 98 percent of Connecticut residents have access to health care coverage by 2014.
Roraback voted against the bill, though it passed both chambers of Connecticut’s General Assembly, and then voted against a veto override when Rell struck it down.
The veto override passed, however, and SustiNet was created.
Esty voted in favor of the bill in the House, and then in favor of the veto override.
Increasing insurance coverage for ostomy-related supplies
Another health insurance-related bill vetoed by Rell, the plan was to increase the coverage for to cancer patients involved in ostomy surgery from $1,000 annually to $5,000 annually.
Roraback and Esty voted in favor of the measure, with Roraback voting against the governor and against many Republican members of the state Senate. Roraback was not the only Republican to disagree with Rell, but a challenge was not mounted when the bill was vetoed.
Requiring insurance coverage for people with epidermolysis bullosa
Epidermolysis bullosa, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is an inherited disorder, “in which skin blisters develop in response to minor injury.”
The proposed bill, passed by both houses of the General Assembly and later signed by the governor into law, was intended to require insurers to cover the cost of supplies for those with the disease.
Both Esty and Roraback voted in favor, in opposition to the objections of health care companies. A representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield wrote during committee public hearings that it would increase the cost of health insurance coverage saying “Mandates remove any choice that employers or individuals might have in purchasing health care.”
Expanding group Insurance coverage for autism diagnosis
Both Esty and Roraback voted in favor of this bill (as did the entirety of both chambers) intended to mandate health insurance coverage for the purposes of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.
The bill requires insurers to cover the cost of “the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.” It was later signed into law by Rell.
The bill was one of eight opposed by the Connecticut Association of Health Plans that day, which argued against placing mandates on health insurance carriers: “We simply point out for the Committee’s consíderationl that many of the treatments and services contemplated under the bill do not constitute typical medical treatment, will be difficult to operationalize and should fall perhaps,more appropriately, under the category of special education.”
Other bills opposed by the Connecticut Association of Health Plans that year required coverage for bone density screenings; expanded coverage for routine patient care costs for clinical trial patients; dealt with coverage for certain acupuncture treatments (co-sponsored by then-5th District candidate Sam Caligiuri); required coverage for colonoscopies for colon cancer survivors, mandated coverage for required vaccines; created “prosthetic parity”; and covering stepchildren on the same basis as biological children (see below).
The autism bill was championed by then Speaker of the House Chris Donovan (along with State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven), who said in testimony that, “Raising a child with autism is a challenge that so many of`our constituents face. They should not also have to struggle with the costs of their treatment.”
Clarifying that stepchildren are to be covered on the same basis as biological children
Two senators voted against this measure, intended to guarantee that stepchildren are treated the same as biological children for the purpose of health insurance. Roraback was not one of them.
Esty voted in favor as well, and the bill was signed by the governor, against objections from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which said in testimony: “CBIA asks you to refrain from making the already high cost of health care even more unaffordable for the state’s companies and residents.”
“CBIA asks this committee to reject all new or expanded mandate proposals and to enact a moratorium on health insurance mandates,” Eric George, associate counsel for CBIA testified. “lt is crucial that as the state moves forward toward major health care reform, that the General Assembly refrain from taking any actions that would increase the cost of already skyrocketing health insurance premiums.”
Prohibiting the use of prescription history as a factor in health insurance coverage
This bill, which would “prohibit the use of an individual’s prescription drug history as a factor in underwriting an individual health insurance policy unless such history derives directly from a medical diagnosis of an underlying condition,” was signed by both houses of the legislature — including Esty and Roraback — and was signed into law by the governor with little to no discussion.
When the bill came to a public hearing in the legislature’s Insurance Committee, the Connecticut Association of Health plans issued testimony against the proposal: “Health plans need to the ability to accurately rate for various risk factors inherent to the practice of insurance and prescription drug history is a strong indicator of risk and therefore an important indicator.”
Both Roraback and Esty voted in favor of the proposal.
Prohibiting the transfer of an assault weapon to a person under 18
There was some opposition to this measure, though both houses of the General Assembly voted to pass it, with no amendments raised. It was later signed by the governor into law.
The bill was passed in response to a Massachusetts case in which an 8-year-old child accidentally shot and killed himself with a machine gun, and opposition during the committee hearing process came from, among others, the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen (with endorsed Republican Justin Bernier in the 5th District primary.
As the coalition’s Robert Crook said in testimony, “Why would a restriction be placed on these activities by those under 18 when state law allows minors ages 12 to 16 to obtain a Department of Environmental Protection junior firearms hunting license, allowing them to hunt with firearms, including so-called “assault weapons” legally registered, under supervision?
Both Roraback and Esty voted in favor of the bill.
Replacing the death penalty with a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release
Andrew Roraback voted in favor of the 2009 bill, which ultimately was vetoed by Rell, also voting against several Republican-led amendments.
Among the more passionate pieces of testimony made in opposition to the bill, came from Cheshire home invasion victim Dr. William Petit, who addressed the issue on biblical terms: “I firmly believe that we morally should have a death penalty. The true translation of ‘Thou shall not kill,’ is actually closer to ‘Thou shall not murder,’ that is for thousands of years we have had a strict societal prohibition against unlawful killing, unlawful killing — not any killing.”
Three years later, when the death penalty was repealed, Roraback voted against repeal, linking the subject to a program of early release credits and drawing the criticism of both his Republican and Democratic congressional opponents.
Esty voted in favor of repeal in 2009, along with most Democratic legislators.
Authorizing cash prizes for organizations sponsoring “blower ball” games
Before 2009, organizations holding “blower ball games,” defined by the legislature as “a game of chance where the players wager on a color or number and the winner is determined by the drawing of a colored or numbered ball from a mechanical ball blower that mixes ping pong balls with blown air,” could not offer cash prizes.
As Paul Young, executive director of the Division of Special Revenue, said in the only piece of submitted testimony, the bill was intended to fill a need created when “money wheel” games were banned in 2003.
“Nonprofit organizations, such as churches, volunteer fire departments, and veteran organizations, made use of bazaar permits and ‘‘money-wheel’ game activity to reaìize thousands of in income for their worthy purposes,” Young said.
Esty voted along with a minority of Democrats against the measure, while Roraback voted in favor. The bill passed and was later signed into law by the governor.
SAME SEX MARRIAGE
Guaranteeing equal protection for same sex marriages
This landmark piece of legislation allowed homosexual couples in the state the right to marry, and both Esty and Roraback voted in favor.
During the senate session, Roraback clarified certain circumstances regarding secular functions (such as adoption) performed by religious organizations, and how allowing same-sex couples to marry might affect federal and state funding of those functions.
“I do think that the admonition about making sure that public dollars are not commingled with those private functions where a sincerely held religious belief will result in discrimination will wisely be heeded,” he said on the Senate floor.
“Profound opposition,” for instance, came from the Connecticut Catholic Conference, which testified during committee hearings that, “The Conference’s opposition to legal recognition of these forms of relationship was based not only on the religious teachings of the Catholic Church, but also out of the church’s concern for the potentially negative sociological impact such relationships may eventually have on society.
According to session transcripts, Esty did not speak on the floor of the House concerning the measure, which became law shortly after obtaining legislative approval.
Email Jordan Fenster at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jordanfenster.