For as long as I’ve served in the Senate I’ve been a member of the Public Health Committee; this term, Senate leaders asked me to co-chair that committee on an interim basis. This has been a rewarding and educational experience because the health care community is working feverishly to prepare for and implement long overdue health care reform.
The New Federal Health Care Law
and Connecticut’s Sustinet
Many reforms included in last year’s federal health care law--meant to expand coverage, improve access and keep costs in check--will be implemented over the next few years. To ensure that transition is a smooth one, Connecticut’s Sustinet Health Partnership Board has submitted a plan through which Medicaid expansion, new health insurance options and a renewed emphasis on community health centers will be embraced.
At this early stage, legislation is pending before three committees—Public Health, Insurance, and Human Services—to prepare our health care delivery system for these improvements. At the risk of oversimplifying the objective, expanded coverage and improved access will reduce costs through an emphasis on wellness, prevention and early treatment.
In this manner, we can avoid or eliminate duplicative testing, costly treatment of advanced and chronic conditions, and expensive hospital and emergency room treatment for minor ailments. I’m delighted to have a role in what has been described as the most sweeping health care transformation in 30 years.
Supportive Housing Initiatives
The Public Health Committee is also considering several bills to improve services for those with mental health issues. The first of these would expand the state’s supportive housing program. These cost-effective options: 1) help clients by providing independent living, 2) help families that would otherwise struggle to provide suitable care, 3) minimize the cost associated with care for those who might otherwise be institutionalized.
This initiative would provide for up to 1,650 additional units of affordable housing and support services under programs administered by the state.
Successful Autism Services
Another bill being considered by the Public Health Committee would make minor changes in what has been a very successful pilot program to assist those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A law we enacted in 2009 created the Division of Autism Services within the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Services have been made available to residents surrounding New Haven and Hartford; the Public Health Committee is considering separate legislation to expand these services into southeastern Connecticut as well.
This bill would accelerate collaboration with the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to allow for earlier identification of children affected by ASD. The bill would also provide for the development of statewide guidelines to help diagnosticians identify ASD in children.
Revised Approach to
Another Public Health Committee initiative seems simple and yet signifies a widespread, revised approach to another form of mental illness. The bill seeks to redefine what has long been referred to as 'mental retardation' as 'intellectual disability.' The simple change in terminology to more respectful language not only brings Connecticut into compliance with a new federal law of the same nature, it more accurately reflects what has been learned about the condition and accepted treatment strategies.
This bill, already endorsed by DDS, also dramatically streamlines or eliminates altogether specific reporting requirements now deemed duplicative and/or obsolete.