HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut officials are pushing ahead with their plans to offer a new health insurance marketplace to residents by 2014, as well as other initiatives, buoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold most of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul legislation.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a Democrat, said the decision ensures at least 500,000 residents will have access to health care coverage.
The state has already received millions of dollars in federal funds to enact parts of the Affordable Care Act and is currently in the process of seeking more than $100 million to get the new insurance marketplace, or exchange, up and running.
"I think it's full steam ahead. I don't think there's any question about that," said State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri.
The board that is overseeing the exchange is currently in the process of deciding which essential health care benefits will have to be covered by plans that will be offered to individuals and small business employers who will use the exchange to evaluate, compare and purchase health insurance coverage. Subsidies will also be provided to help some people afford coverage.
Once the board decides which essential benefits must be provided, Veltri said, the group still has to determine what requirements it wants the plans to follow in order to be considered as qualified to participate.
In this Democratic-leaning state of 3.5 million people, where there are an estimated 377,000 uninsured, the court's decision was cheered by many public leaders.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman issued a joint statement calling it "a tremendous day for all Americans" and called on Republicans in Congress to stop its efforts to repeal the health care changes.
"In Connecticut, we've been leading the way on this issue _ we never stopped working, and today's decision is an affirmation of everything we've worked so hard to prepare. Now let's make sure we continue to implement this historic, positive change," they said.
Veltri said "thousands and thousands" of state residents have already benefitted from many provisions in the federal law, such as bans on refusal of coverage for pre-existing conditions and lifetime spending limits, as well as allowing young adults to be insured by their parents until age 26. Even though Connecticut passed a law requiring such coverage for young adults, it does not affect self-insured companies.
But several Republicans running for federal office expressed disappointment over the court's ruling and vowed to help with repeal efforts in Washington. Some seized on the point that the mandate requiring individuals to have health coverage was upheld because the court found it constitutional as a tax.
Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said the court's decision reaffirms the need to send someone to Washington "who has the ability to repeal this destructive law," calling it "the single greatest infringement on our individual liberties and personal freedoms that we have seen in my generation."
Former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon, the Republicans' endorsed candidate for the Senate, said the tax increases needed to finance the legislation "will devastate small businesses and middle class families" and ultimately stymie job growth.
"But now the real work begins," she said. "And that's why it is so important for Connecticut voters to send someone to Washington who will implement common-sense, market-based solutions that increase patient choice, control costs, and expand access to coverage for all Americans."